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?

How Bruce Schneier secures his laptop

On the heels of this recent story out of the UK about the government losing 25 million citizens’ personal data, IT security guru Bruce Schneier provides his tips on securing your laptop, especially critical for those us with client data on our drives:

Longer keys increase the amount of work the defender has to do linearly, while geometrically increasing the amount of work the attacker has to do.

Strong passwords are the first step to protecting your firm’s and your clients’ information assets. Assigning a strong password using a combination of lower and uppercase letters, numbers and special characters is far more important than changing your password frequently. It has been my experience, however, that strong passwords just aren’t being enforced as well as they should be.

There are several whole-disk encryption products on the market. […] The reason you encrypt your entire disk, and not just key files, is so you don’t have to worry about swap files, temp files, hibernation files, erased files, browser cookies or whatever. You don’t need to enforce a complex policy about which files are important enough to be encrypted. And you have an easy answer to your boss or to the press if the computer is stolen: no problem; the laptop is encrypted.

I love the idea of simplying this process in the way described above. Making it easy for non-technical users to implement security measures makes it more likely they will get implemented effectively. And being able to tell your manager or the partner that the client data has not been compromised would help me sleep at night.

Bruce also mentions that the product he uses can encrypt USB drives, which are an essential tool for the modern auditor. I keep mine secure by wiping data from it immediately after transferring to the laptop, but that may not always be immediately possible.

Whole-disk encryption means that anyone at your computer has access to everything. […] I recommend a two-tier encryption strategy. Encrypt anything you don’t need access to regularly — archived documents, old e-mail, whatever — separately, with a different password.

This is a sound strategy for older files, although I prefer his final point:

Minimize the amount of data on your laptop. Do you really need 10 years of old e-mails [sic]? Does everyone in the company really need to carry around the entire customer database?

This is a better strategy for me as an auditor. The only files I need on my laptop is the client I’m working on at the moment. That audit that wrapped up last week? It’s on the network, where security isn’t my responsibility! As for email, I try to clear out old stuff annually to keep the hard drive usage up but also to remove potentially sensitive information.

Follow those simple tips and your portable client, employer and personal data will have a much greater chance of remaining out of the wrong hands.

Work-life balance: Laptops on holiday

Work-life balance is a topic that comes up frequently in the accounting profession. Robert Half, a recruiting company, surveys accountants occasionally.

38% of accountants take the office with them on holiday in the form of either a laptop or handheld computer. The research also found that 34% of accountants globally admit to working in the evenings, while 37% respond to e-mails and take phone calls in the evening when they have pressing deadlines.

  • I left everything when I went on vacation last month. No laptops, and the phone was off the entire time!
  • Working in the evenings is a given during busy season and sometimes necessary at other times.
  • I respond to emails if I happen to check my work address, but that doesn’t happen regularly at this time of year (see above).

I may have left the computers at home because I was worried about potential surges and didn’t want to buy a protector. But I definitely cut the cord to the office. Generally you aren’t taking vacation if it is a busy time, though.

I was reading and responding to email earlier this afternoon (Sunday!) because I happened to check. It didn’t really feel like work, and certainly not burdensome. It all depends on the current workload. If I was writing this post in March, it might sound different!

Intel laptop for the extremely mobile professional

Intel Metro laptopIntel’s Metro laptop concept is causing quite a stir and for good reason. The thing is a svelte 0.7 inches thin and 2.25 pounds, making it the slimmest and one of the lightest portable computers ever conceived. According to this BusinessWeek feature, Intel may produce the machine as early as later this year.

But why would Intel, the processor company, be designing a laptop?

It’s keen to rev up demand for the computers running on its processors. The device might rely on Intel chips not just for computing but also for memory and connecting to wireless networks. The prototype also incorporates technologies developed by companies financed by Intel Capital, the chipmaker’s venture capital arm.

One side of the exterior features an E Ink display, good for showing you the day’s, week’s or month’s calendar or schedule, which is produced by a company partially funded by Intel Capital. The cool thing about the E Ink display is that it works without power. With a target battery life of 14 hours, however, this probably isn’t such a big concern! Now that’s mobility.

Now that’s a severance package!

Departing Senior VP and General Counsel Timothy Stevens of Borland Software has worked a deal whereby he gets to keep the “Company-issued laptop computer, monitor, printer and docking station used by Executive prior to the Separation Date together with the related loaded software, accessories and power cords.”

If I left my firm I wouldn’t want to keep the laptop! My personal laptop is so much better, faster and newer! Of course I’m just a junior so I get the old equipment. Partners and senior managers have nice stuff.

Good thing that dude remembered the power cords though… Can you imagine him getting home with his kit and then just realizing he had to go out and buy a power cord with his paltry $130,000 severance payment?