Do you remember when Lotus 1-2-3 for DOS was a brand-new product? If so, perhaps you've also noticed how much priorities have changed since those days.
In some cases, our new values make at least a little bit of sense. Take application benchmarks, for example. There was a time when it really mattered if a word processor took 10 vs 20 seconds to perform a global search and replace on a large document.
But when was the last time you bought a spreadsheet application based on how fast it recalculates? And if you found a spreadsheet that was significantly faster than the one your company is using, could you actually switch?
People don't care much about speed any more, and understandably so. It is more important for the entire company to be synchronised on the same product than it is for that product to be the fastest available.
But clue me in on this one: when did people stop caring about holes in network security? If security still mattered, Windows 9x and that swiss cheese called Internet Explorer would long ago have been banned from the corporate desktop. Criminy, it isn't even considered news any more when someone discovers yet another way to break into your system using Internet Explorer.
Don't tell me that these security holes aren't serious because there are no known incidents where the flaws have been exploited. How would you know, pray tell? It's not like Windows keeps logs that you can analyse to see if anyone has ripped off your Quicken files. And without adequate safety features, how do you expect to know whether your company has been hit? A confession? Oh, right, as if the culprit would say, "Cool! The last time you browsed my Web site, I downloaded all your Excel spreadsheets! Let me call the papers."
I really want to hear from those people who made the conscious decision to standardise on Internet Explorer. If you're still using it, and security is important to your boss, I'd like to know how you managed to keep your job. No, scratch that question. Rather, if this particular issue doesn't seem important to you, please send all your users to www.emptymybankaccountsnow.com for more information on how to get the most out of Internet Explorer. While you're there, be sure to read my article about how much safer your data is when you store it on a local workstation instead of a professionally managed server.
Let's jump over to productivity, which is a touchy topic because nobody seems to know how to measure it. But let me tackle one aspect of it -- the fine line between customising your desktop to increase productivity and customising it as a hobby.
I'm all for providing users with a way to customise all their software. I'll even defend a user's ability to configure meaningless cosmetics like the colour of window title bars. But let's agree that in most cases, changing the way your desktop looks increases productivity about as much as changing your clothes does.
So why don't software publishers make it ridiculously easy to take care of the cosmetic stuff? That seems to me like the best way to reduce wasted time.
I can only think of one desktop operating system that was designed to minimise the amount of time people waste on cosmetics. Remember OS/2? In the first place, the OS/2 Workplace Shell really does offer ways to customise your desktop to make your life easier. And when you're tempted to do purely cosmetic tinkering, you can usually do it all using simple drag-and-drop operations. You don't waste a lot of time because you don't have to spend a lot of time to get the results you want.
I have to concede that Windows isn't the worst offender. I've whittled away more hours on Windows than I'd like to admit. But I've probably wasted even more time playing with Linux window managers like Enlightenment. There are several window managers available, and each of them lets you tune the look and feel of almost every imaginable detail. While these window managers are getting easier to tune with every release, you can still blow an entire day messing with configuration files and graphics tools.
So look around you. Over the years, which priorities have you seen change for the better and which have changed for the worse?
Nicholas Petreley is editorial director of LinuxWorld (www.linuxworld.com). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and visit his forum at www.infoworld.com