10 things we hate about laptops

Sure, laptops have revolutionized the way we compute. That doesn't mean they don't drive IT bonkers.

Damaged. Lost. Stolen. Too big, too small. Insecure and unreliable. And just plain annoying. If you're in IT, there's just not much to like about laptops.

To be sure, portable computers have changed the way business operates, so much so that we literally cannot imagine a work life without them. That said, IT professionals, whether they're dealing with accident-prone users or keeping the network secure, say laptops are nothing short of a support nightmare.

Some cope by outsourcing support altogether (see To outsource or not at the end of this article); others by rigidly adhering to standards and trying not to personally take the hate mail they receive from disgruntled end users.

Either way, IT executives have a lot to say on the subject of laptops, nearly none of it good.

And that's ironic, or maybe just tough luck, because sales of laptops in the business sector are growing 20% a quarter, while sales of desktop computers are declining sharply, according to IDC in Framingham, Mass.

By this time next year, IDC says, shipments of business laptops will have surpassed that of desktops, and the gap will continue to widen. This year alone, laptop sales in the U.S. are expected to hit 31.7 million units.

IT has to support those 31.7 million machines, quickly and efficiently, whether the units are ensconced at a Starbucks or being dragged around remotest Africa, or even when the machine is run over by a train and sliced in half. (See When bad things happen to good laptops on the next page for more horror stories.)

But we didn't say IT had to like it.

Here we present, in no particular order, the top 10 things IT professionals absolutely hate about laptops. (And yes, we did have to edit down a very long list.)

1. Battery life still bombs.

Battery life has long been the Achilles heel of laptops, and even though battery life in newer models can now top four hours, it's not enough for mobile users and the IT pros who service them. Not nearly.

"I love my laptop, couldn't live without it, but I really hate it, too," says Dr. Joshua Lee, medical director of information services at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center in La Jolla, Calif. "Battery, battery, battery ... it is such a pain."

Lee, who is both a practicing physician and an IT director, means that literally. He oversees a team of 50-plus laptop-carrying doctors who sometimes are forced to stop a patient exam and go search for an AC adapter cord so they can continue making notes on the patient's records. "There's the hunting for the plug, then the unplugging and wrapping up of the cord ... it just feels weird to be doing all that in front of a patient," Lee says.

And, of course, there's always the chance that it's the wrong cord. Though the UCSD Medical Center primarily uses Dell laptops and desktops, other organizations aren't as standardized on a single brand. For example, at the Kansas Department of Transportation in Topeka, when laptops hit the road, it's not always with the right AC adapter. "Why can't power cords just be standardized?" asks a frustrated Sue Swartzman, data center manager. "Why do they even have those things? There has to be a better solution."

2. Laptops get banged up and broken.

The No. 1 place laptops get damaged is on airplanes, according to our highly informal survey of support managers. That guy in front stretches out, jams the tray table down and smashes the nice new laptop in the process.

"A lot of these laptops are assembled in China, and let's face it, they are flimsy," says Long Le, IT director at Atlas Air Inc., a large international air freight company in Purchase, N.Y.

Le oversees 300 laptops traveling to the far-flung reaches of Asia, South America and Europe. Not all of those laptops travel business class, so he sees a lot of broken hinges from tray-table mishaps, as well as cracked screens and cases and parts that just decide to fall off.

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