Saturday, April 24, 2010

How to Get Your IT Guy Excited about the iPad

I'm excited about the iPad.

For me, it starts with the iWork suite being rewritten for the iPad as multitouch-flavored productivity candy.  For an extra $30, the iPad supports the entire "knowledge worker" software stack: email, calendar, word processing, slides, and spreadsheets.  That gives an IT guy an excuse to be excited about the iPad at launch that I didn't have for the iPhone.  (Remember, useful corporate email support came about a year after the iPhone originally hit the streets.)

But before I get into how the iPad can change the game for IT, let me tell you about the game we're playing now.  These are the requirements my IT shop imposes on a computer (especially a laptop) to make it a "supported corporate asset":

1) Access to local files and programs is limited to trusted operators.
2) The theft of the physical device does not lead to loss of intellectual property.
3) Malicious code is prevented from executing or spreading.
4) Portable devices can access the corporate network remotely.
5) IT-mandated patches to the OS, browser, and applications are applied promptly.
6) IT-curated applications are licensed and paid for centrally.
7) Work is backed up.
8) Status on all of the above is reported to IT automatically.

For this post, I'll divide that list into things the iPad already does right, and things I'm only hopeful about.

Done Right
1) Local access control
Given that the iPad is running an improved version of the increasingly inaccurately named "iPhone OS," we're able to enforce the PIN protected login once the user connects to ActiveSync to get their email.  Unfortunately, there's no real mechanism to have more than one local user with differentiated access.

Counterpoint:  It's $500, get your own.

2) Theft Protection
The iPad has full disk encryption (so did iPhone, starting with the 3GS) and remote wipe (via ActiveSync).  The jury still seems to be out at this writing whether the iPad has the same vulnerabilities as the iPhone in it's disk encryption.

3) Malicious Code Protection
I know it’s popular (and fun!) to bash the App Store approvals process, but IT is getting a lot out of it. Apple is making it their business to guarantee that “iFart HD” is not going to do something awful to my device or file system.  There is much in the Store that is tacky or worthless, but no one has found trojans or malware.

I’m a little taken aback by the outcry for background applications. People seem to take this rosy view of how well behaved their Twitter and IM apps are going to be, but have they forgotten what the task bar looks like in a year-old Windows system?  The upside to the sandboxed, no-background-process state of Apps is that there is no iPad blue-screen-of-death.

As a result, we're willing to forgo the antivirus and app-whitelisting requirements we impose on our laptops and desktops. Which is just as well, since no one makes one, and it's not obvious that it's even possible to.

4) Access to the corporate network
Between ActiveSync and the VPN client, the iPhone OS already has the tools we need to connect up to the mother ship. 

5) Patching
If Apple really wants the iPad to be the only computer for certain types of user, they're going to need to lose the notion that some things can only be done via iTunes.  First up: upgrades to the OS currently require a "bigger brother" computer to download and force feed it over USB.  If an iPad is a computer, and not just an accessory, it has to take this part of its destiny into its own hands.

On the bright side, once we figure out OS patching, browser patching gets solved as a side effect.  And on top of the base browser, on a full-operating-system laptop we've also got to worry about the patch level of Java, and Adobe Reader, and Flash -- it's a relief for me to not have that class of crap as a possibility with Mobile Safari.

6) IT-curated Apps
I'm lucky to work for a company with a pretty laid back attitude, so we're not interested in blocking any Apps that Apple has been willing to permit.  We're also delighted that the App Store puts the cost of Doodle Jump and Bookworm onto the user, which contrasts nicely with Blackberry users' ringtones showing up on the corporate bill.

But when Photoshop or AutoCAD or some other pricey-yet-critical application launches, we certainly don't expect the user to expense it, and we do expect to be able to reclaim and reassign that license when the user leaves the company.  Ideally I'd like dual financial responsibility: the company will pay for and retain ownership of these n Apps; for everything else you're on your own.

7) Backups
For email and contacts, I'm already confident that ActiveSync is covering my data -- I don't need email backups from the iPad's point of view because I've got the "original" on the server, and the server goes to tape.  Some Apps also shoulder backups themselves: my Yelp bookmarks and Kindle books are synced to the appropriate "big computer in the sky." 

It is staggering to me how bad the file management is in all the iWork apps. There are more ways for me to organize my pictures than my documents, versioning is missing, the trash can (a Mac feature since... well since it was a Xerox feature) is missing. The only comfort I have is that it's so bad users will instinctively use email to store and share, so I'm back in the protective arms of our Exchange filers.

8) Monitoring device status
Our IT shop needs to know when an iPad starts to get into trouble.  There will be exploits against the base OS; how can we make sure our users upgrade promptly?  I'm putting a lot of faith in Apple's approval process for Apps; how can I detect jailbroken iPads?  Documents and presentations and paintings are all going to be born on the iPad; how can I make sure our users have good backup habits (at least to iTunes)?

This kind of central thinking seems to be totally absent in the current iPhone OS.

So, why are you so excited again?
I'm excited because we know the device launched with about half of my requirements met, in the operating system, for the base price.  I've got a further expectation that most of what's missing is under consideration in Cupertino (comparisons between my wish list and iPhone OS 4 are left as an exercise to the reader).

For comparison, to hit these same requirements, my Mac laptop contains six third-party "management" applications, all running as background apps, each dragging down my productivity a teeny bit.  That's before I load up any software I use to do my actual work.

The vision of a clean slate -- with all of IT's requirements baked in, and the whole processor devoted to what the user wants to achieve -- should excite even the most jaded IT guy.

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