WSJ on why work tech sucks

You’ll have to hurry before Rupert puts it behind a paywall and blocks Google from indexing it, but the WSJ had a good article recently about technology in the workplace.

At the office, you’ve got a sluggish computer running aging software, and the email system routinely badgers you to delete messages after you blow through the storage limits set by your IT department. Searching your company’s internal Web site feels like being teleported back to the pre-Google era of irrelevant search results.

I don’t have a sluggish computer at work (it’s actually newer and better than my personal laptop), but it does run Windows XP still. Email storage limits should be a thing of the past and likely will be in 5-10 years as more businesses take advantage of cloud computing (or are forced to compete with that level of service). And I think we’ve all had bad intranet search experience!

Even more galling, especially to tech-savvy workers, is the nanny-state attitude of employers who block access to Web sites, lock down PCs so users can’t install software and force employees to use clunky programs.

For me, preventing software installation is much more heinous crime than blocking websites. Both treat employees like children, but the former serves to hurt productivity much more so than the latter. Youtube is a bandwidth hog, but explain to me why the default browser is still IE6?

“Virtual machine” software, for example, lets companies install a package of essential work software on a computer and wall it off from the rest of the system. So, employees can install personal programs on the machine with minimal interference with the work software.

This is an interesting idea. Has anyone experienced this method of organizing a work computer? It seems like a good compromise.

When they get fed up with work technologies, employees often become digital rogues, finding sneaky ways to use better tools that aren’t sanctioned by the IT department.

Is this really what the company (or the IT department) wants? Clearly not.

Instant Messaging (IM) is one area where corporations have really dropped the ball. Before I graduated from school I worked remotely part-time for a dotcom and I used MSN to communicate with my manager much more often than email. And it worked superbly. But that type of environment seems like a dream now.

The article talks about the changes Kraft Foods implemented to take better advantage of new technologies and improve worker productivity. They give employees an allowance for a phone and let them choose which one they want (60% chose iPhones). They even let employees choose their own computer, with the rule that they must consult forums for technical support if they choose not to use Windows.

For many of us, our computers and mobile phones are the primary tools we use to do our jobs. Companies that fail to provide their employees with the best tools will not get the best results.

If you enjoy hardware and software freedom at work, tell me about it in the comments!

Will the netbook save the desktop?

There has been a migration in recent years from the desktop as primary computer to the laptop. As the cost of the laptop relative to its performance specs decreased, more and more people were finding that the benefits of mobility and a small form factor justified moving to a laptop.

Enter the netbook. These are basically laptops that have been shrunk down to half the size. The result has been increased mobility thanks to reduced weight and better power usage. The netbook is a recognition that users need primarily internet access to accomplish most daily tasks. But for most computer users, a netbook isn’t enough to do everything they need to do.

Re-enter the desktop. The limited mobility of a desktop would be complemented by the hyper mobility of a netbook and take the place where a single computer (a laptop) used to exist for some users. Take the netbook with you when you need to go, have the desktop waiting for you when you get back.

I think the possibility exists that we will have a segment of consumers that use the netbook+desktop setup. This could be the redemption of the desktop format, which has been in decline for the past few years at least. What do you think?