Saturday, July 15, 2006

Microsoft Giveth and Microsoft Taketh Away: Private Folders

Microsoft hands out 'private' folders...
Microsoft shutters Windows private folders

As I like to do, I got involved on a discussion about the brief appearance of Private Folders, an option provided by Microsoft for Windows XP users who use computers in an administered IT environment. The original article can be found here:

Microsoft Retracts Private Folder Option

Someone's reply and my response (heavily edited for clarity) are as follows:

I always find it amusing when you have IT people developing features for Windows that really don't understand IT in the real world. Then they release something and are shocked when IT managers are furious over it. One would think MS would have a real good understanding of the IT environment and what is and is not a good idea. Good stuff :)

-- gasmonso on Saturday July 15, @12:51PM

Many IT administrators are barely-in-the-closet fascists. They enjoy making sure that their user bases have no privacy, cannot use their organizations phones or computers for anything that isn't "strictly business", are constantly under surveillance at the workplace, etc. These admins are often on power trips -- they are frequently hated by the users of the systems they (supposedly) support and those users often take pleasure in working against them in subtle (or at least anonymous) ways. These "Users versus IT Gestapo" situations are sometimes entertaining to observe, as long as one isn't part of the problem.

At the other extreme are the system and network administrators who allow (even encourage) users to do (or install) whatever they damn well please on their workstations (unless the action is obviously malicious or illegal). These admins must be masochistic -- the more computer illiterate the user base, the more likely it it is to figure out (read: accidentally discover) ways to create problems which require a week's worth of IT's time to correct, on a daily or even hourly basis. These nearly anarchistic computing environments are a lot of fun while they last -- which is rarely for longer than it takes for an oh-so-clever user to crash a server, delete someone else's files, sell organizational secrets, buy a drop-in pr0n site package and run it on the facilities at the workplace, make (what she thinks are) anonymous death threats, etc.

Somewhere in the middle are the administrators who can usually leave their work at the office at the end of the day but who don't mind if users want to access and maybe save personal email messages or other files from work (where the spiffy color laser printer sometimes gets used to print pictures of a worker's newborn baby or a photo that an employee wants to hang in his cube), and realize that most sane people don't truly compartmentalize their work and personal lives; that overlap is normal and natural, usually inevitable, and often beneficial -- that most folks want/expect some personal privacy in the workplace and to be cut a little slack when using office resources for personal reasons.

As someone who has tried to fall into that third, loosely defined group of IT administrators/managers when I've held such positions, I find it to be worth the effort to do the balancing/juggling act. Then again, I'm a practical libertarian and not a compulsive authoritarian by nature.


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