Monday, May 09, 2005

Application Blocking

I really do try to keep this blog from being a gripe fest, but sometimes I just can't help it.

My company--I won't name names (yet)--never ceases to amaze me in the number of ways it finds to be stupid. Today's little surprise was that when I tried to pull up a Web site, I got a nice little dialog box explaining that my workstation policy doesn't allow the application to run. Not the Web site, the application itself. The application, of course, is Mozilla Firefox, the Web browser alternative to Internet Explorer.

For those who don't know, Firefox is an open source software application that has recently garnered much publicity for being much safer and more secure than Internet Explorer. I happen to like it because it has better features, such as ad and popup blocking. But at my company, it is specifically listed as an unauthorized application that must be blocked from running.

Why? I'm sure that the powers-that-be would come up with some nonsense about standardizing all of the workstations, but I know it boils down to one thing: control. A lot of people in IT have a nasty habit of thinking that because they are provided the means of doing something, they must do that thing. In this case, it's restricting applications that can be run.

How do I know? Because I've reluctantly been on the other side of this fence several times. My background is as a systems administrator, and I've had several heated exchanges with managers who wanted to do everything they could to snuff out any individuality in machine configurations. One particular incident that comes to mind was an IT manager who wanted to lock down what wallpaper was used as the background for every machine in the company. Why the hell would we want to dictate the wallpaper on a user's desktop? "Standardization," he said, but I knew that the real reason was a lot simpler: Because we can.

The thing is, though, that users aren't robots. Big corporations try to imagine us all as interchangeable cogs, but the truth is that everybody works differently. Even though the corporate standard is Internet Explorer, maybe I'm more efficient and productive with Firefox (I am). Maybe I will use Firefox to try things work-related that I cannot try in Internet Explorer (I will). Maybe I just plain like Firefox better (I do).

What IT people often forget is that IT is supposed to help people get their work done, not keep them from doing their job. Being in IT myself, I understand all-too-well that sometimes you have to restrict something to protect the integrity of the systems and the data, such as keeping people from running viruses and such. I understand keeping people from doing something illegal, such as running unlicensed copies of software. But stopping users from customizing their machine to maximize their own productivity--or even to simply appeal to their aesthetic sense--is unprofessional and just plain stupid.

By the way, the Firefox-blocking thing is easy enough to work around. I simply renamed the firefox.exe executable file iexplore.exe, which of course, is not blocked. I am once again browsing in peace.


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