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!

The Dell-Alienware deal, a few weeks later

Dell bought Alienware because they needed to get into the high-end market in a big way. They have given up on trying to crack the market with the Dell brand, which has never been cool and apparently never will be.

Established in 1996 and based in Miami, Florida, Alienware has built their reputation as a provider of powerful machines built for hardcore computer gamers and encased in sleek packages.

Alienware will remain essentially autonomous. Dell … will give Alienware free rein to devise wild designs for the avant-garde using whatever components it chooses. However, Dell will assume responsibility for logistical aspects, such as securing supplies of components and offering more generous financing packages.

Dell will focus on doing what they do best and Alienware will continue to make crazy sweet machines. Seems like the match is going to work out for consumers as well as shareholders.