01/19/2001

Software of the day: SecurePC, from www.citadel.com . I spent most of yesterday evaluating it. The biggest thing it does that system policies won’t do is prevent the installation of software–in other words, it makes NT live up to the hype it’s had forever. I tried installing about 20 or so programs, using different methods to try to get around it, and I couldn’t. The setup programs either gave bogus error messages, told me installing software had been disabled, died outright, or crashed. In one instance, the setup program started, asked some questions, then told me installing software had been disabled. Nice.

The only things it won’t block are standalone programs, such as Steve Gibson’s self-contained gems, that don’t require any installation. But I’m not so concerned about those. For one, they’re rare. For two, they usually don’t conflict with anything because they don’t venture outside themselves. Their only danger is that they might be virus-infected, but that’s why we install always-on virus protection and push virus definitions.

The goal is to be able to set up PCs for use in the field, get them working right, then lock them down so as to keep people from breaking them by installing AOL and Webshots and every piece of beta software under the sun and break it.

SecurePC will do a few things system policies will as well, and its user interface is much nicer than Microsoft’s Poledit. Poledit will allow finer control of the control panels, so SecurePC doesn’t totally replace it, but the combination of the two will let you really lock a machine down. And frankly, even Windows 95 is pretty reliable as long as it’s running on good hardware and the user doesn’t mess with it.

But SecurePC is obviously targeting companies used to paying someone $100 an hour or more to fix PCs, because it runs $99. A 10-pack of the network version is $550. That’s a bargain for a company, but this would be incredibly useful in public computer labs in schools, libraries and churches, who frequently can’t afford that. It’s a shame. Hey, if it were priced lower I’ll bet some people would even buy it for home use. I have one friend who could really use it–it’d keep his 20-year-old brother from messing up his PC.

Tyrannical Security. This kind of software is a draconian measure, but what people all too often forget is that when a PC is sitting on a desk at work, it ceases to be a PC. It’s a CC–corporate computer, not personal computer. It’s a corporate asset, set up the way the corporation dictates. If the corporation says no screen savers, no Webshots, no stupid Yahoo news ticker, no RealAudio, then that’s law. Problem is, that’s impossible to enforce with the tools that come with Windows. But a third-party product to enforce them is a Godsend. Computer toys eat memory and CPU cycles, slowing it down and thus hurting productivity, and many of these toys are so poorly written as to make Microsoft look like a model of stability. Personally, I can’t wait for the day when Real Networks goes out of business. So these programs go in, break stuff, and then there’s lost productivity while waiting for the tech to arrive, then still more while an overworked tech tries to fix it. If we were to buy 1,000 copies of some security program that works and roll it out to everyone on our network, I’d be willing to bet it would pay for itself in three months.

The number of the day: 146. I use the Al Gore method of taking IQ tests. I keep taking them over and over again until I like the results. They say the 135-145 range looks like a genius to most people; the 145-165 range is a true genius. I’m accused of being a genius frequently enough that I’m probably at least a 135.

So since I climbed 22 points in a day, I can assume I’ll climb another 22 points today if I take another one, which will put me at 168–high genius level. Then I can take another one tomorrow, gain another 22 points, and apply for Mensa membership.

Or I can forget about it and get on with life. I think I like that idea better.

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