Paying for the privilege of lost productivity

I think the time has finally come. In the past, we’ve seen quite possibly hundreds of studies from think-tanks and research firms trying to quantify the cost of viruses, trojans, spam, etc to corporations in terms of lost productivity, downtime, extra FTEs, etc. The costs are astronomical. In the US, these pesky pestilences cost corporations billions per year.

However, I have never seen a study that attempts to figure out how much time/productivity is lost as a result of end users installing new service packs, firewalls, antivirus software, antispam software, “window cleaners”, and the like, and having their productivity applications fail to work as a result.

Just today, we had someone stop by the office because they were unable to send email through our mail server using Outlook. Our SMTP server requires authentication, which also means it requires an encrypted connection (after all, what good is enforcing security by requiring you to provide credentials over a connection that is a gaping security hole?). After testing, reconfiguring, troubleshooting, rebooting, restarting the application, testing, reconfiguring, and rebooting again, the realization was made that something other than the mail client itself was the problem. Was it the firewall? Was it XP Service Pack 2? Was it the antivirus software? Turns out, after much searching and troubleshooting, that the antivirus software was acting as a mail proxy and interfering with the conversation between Outlook and the SMTP server. It took about 30 minutes to find this problem and fix it, and test it.

This is kind of a scary problem to me. The scary part is that everyone I’ve ever met who runs windows runs (at the very least) one or more of these software products which are meant to improve their “computing experience”. This means that the millions of Windows users out there, instead of demanding that Microsoft fix the problems with their OS, have happily run out and spent more money on more software that wastes more disk space to fix problems that they did not create and should not bear the responsibility for. How is it that Microsoft still finds the nerve to call this a “user friendly” environment?

Inevitably, nobody who runs windows will read this. They won’t read any other technical op/ed or instructional article either. They’ll barely make an effort to click a “help” button. Why? Because Uncle Bill has created just for them an environment that encourages them to be the drooling, brainless, thumbsucking ignoramuses they’ve become. Slowly, over the course of decades, they went from understanding what the words “RAM” and “CPU” actually meant, to referring to these terms as “geek jargon”.

I wish them luck.