Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Part 41: When Windows cripples other people

As I wallow in funemployment (Give me a job!) I sometimes find time to help out other people. For instance, a friend of mine works for a local non-profit. Now, before I go any further, let me take a quick second to rail against non-profit IT people. Non-profit IT people, as far as I can tell, really need to learn something about, uh, information technology. I'm sure that they are nice people, but if you manage an organization with satellite offices, you really should be able to set up a secure wireless router over the phone. It's not hard!

The second thing I am going to get out there before I start my story: buying PCs because they are cheaper is penny-wise and pound-foolish. The Times just wrote about how businesses are turning more to Apple products. The money quote:

Information technology departments, though, may find working with Apple a challenge. Historically among I.T. managers, Apple Macs were largely shunned as too expensive, and the company was viewed as not serious about making the computers blend well in corporate environments.
Basically double that for non-profits. For instance: I have a friend who works with GIS a lot, which pretty much only runs in a Windows environment. He had had enough trouble with PCs, and realized that the best computer was a graphics-laden MacBook Pro, running Boot Camp to run Windows. And he has not regretted it. I'm not sure how he got that through his IT department, but it just plain works.

Now let's get back to my friend. I went by her office to grab lunch, and she was complaining about how stressful it was to have a computer which wouldn't connect to wireless. I started troubleshooting. They'd done the obvious (restarting the router) but it was obviously her computer since it was occurring with multiple wireless networks and no other computers on these networks were compromised. The first thing I asked was for the password for their wireless. "Oh, we don't have one." Now, I doubt that was the reason her DNS lookup and wireless is all screwed up, but she said it was slow from time to time, and I went about logging in.

They'd basically plugged in a Linksys box and logged in, as did, apparently, everyone else in the neighborhood. The hardest part was figuring out which username and password combination to use; once I had I pretty quickly gave their network an appropriate name and WEP encryption (with the office phone number as the password, of course). Next it was time to see if the computer could be fixed. The long and short of it was that I couldn't figure out what was wrong. I didn't bug my dad, but there was obviously something non-trivial wrong with it. The connection would frequently cut out, especially when trying to send data (very weird). Basically, she needs to take the computer (brand new and very much still warranted) and get it fixed or replaced. With Apple, I assume even for enterprise a quick trip to the nearest Apple Store would have them fixing or replacing the machine. With Windows, she had to go through whatever IT distributor her organization uses, entailing a trip elsewhere or a wait for the mail (and I doubt they have overnight turnaround like Apple).

In any case, I asked how much productivity she thinks this cost her. "Oh, about a week." Eight hours a day, for five days? "Yup." I said that since she could still convolutedly send email (by writing it in Word and then doing something) she hadn't lost all productivity and she agreed. I said it was maybe half productivity. 20 hours. At $20 per hour (give or take, not counting the IT department's time on the phone). One random crash and she'd whittled away $400 of time, which could certainly have been used to buy a Mac which would probably be faster and last longer.

The upshot? It will probably be solved bluntly, with a full reinstall of the OS. My friend didn't have the ability to back up her data or the time to reinstall windows (i.e. the whole day). So, for now, she'll beg time off of people with desktops (she's on the road a lot) and lose more productivity with subpar equipment.

So, dear IT departments of the world: just because you don't know how to use a certain product doesn't mean your employees don't, either. Don't just buy the cheapest crap you can get your hands on. Invest in a quality product, and then you're job will be easier. And your employees more productive. And everyone wins.

Oh, and learn how to set up a goddamn wireless router. 192.168.1.1, admin, admin …

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