A dozen tools that would help IT and users

Frank Hayes' wishlist

Here’s what we in IT know: Consumer-level gadgets and add-ons will continue to play an ever bigger role in how our users do their jobs. We know this, too: With only a few exceptions, gadget makers couldn’t innovate to save their skins. They happily clone whatever happens to be selling.

So if we want those gizmos to meet real needs for either IT or our users, we’ll have to start coming up with ideas ourselves.

That’s not as easy as it sounds. We’re in the same kind of rut as those copycat gadget makers. Our mind-set is formed by decades of IT experience. We know what we’ve always done, and we figure the future will look a lot like the past — just smaller, faster and shinier.

Trouble is, Moore’s Law has made much of our thinking obsolete. Many limitations that shaped that thinking no longer exist. We have processing power to burn, but we still treat it as a scarce resource. And users have less spare time than ever, but we still assume they should be the ones who adjust to technology, instead of the other way around.

Enough already. Here are a dozen gadgets, software add-ons and features that I’d like to have. They all use available technology. They’d all be good for users and for IT. Some of them would even be easy to create.

1. A USB key that unlocks my PC and transparently handles hard drive encryption, network encryption and passwords I have a key for my car. Why not my PC?

2. An email filter that blacklists languages, or at least character sets Look, I can’t read any of that spam in Russian anyway.

3. An automatic two- minute delay on outgoing email? There’s no practical way of actually recalling embarrassingly stupid email messages. But with today’s fast networks, what's the big rush when I click “Send”?

4. A usable virtual screen for laptops A tiny projector would do it. So would lightweight LCD glasses. Instead, I can’t open my laptop’s screen on a plane when the guy in front of me decides to sit back and relax.

5. A full-size, full-stroke laptop keyboard Or here’s an idea: Break apart the laptop into a full-size folding keyboard, a virtual display and a little box with a few slots. That’s more flexible and less bulky, and it would save time at airport security.

6. Personal version control for documents I want to keep multiple versions of the same document with the same name — and only use their different time stamps to tell them apart. What’s so hard about that?

7. Automatic local backup on encrypted external storage And I want it to run in the background, all the time, so I can’t possibly forget to back up my files.

8. One-click cleanup Where the hard-disk image returns to an absolutely known state. So long to worms, rootkits and installations gone wrong.

9. Voice recognition that understands me when I say “Stop” Or “Nooooo!” And actually halts the erase, upload, download or other misbegotten operation I want to abort. It would be a bonus if it also recognised “Go back.”

10. Undelete that really works As in, works with that automatic local backup I also want.

11. A smart credit card for travel expenses One that will tell me what I spent money on, where, when and how much — not on my statement, but later that day, when I’m filling out that idiotic still-on-paper expenses form.

12. A high-impact-resistant, waterproof mobile phone The kind that will survive falling into sinks, toilets and carpark puddles, and maybe even out a window. I wouldn’t even mind if it couldn’t download songs or play videos — as long as it could take my abuse.

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