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The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Of Mobility

Our two most relied upon computing/communications devices--the laptop and the cell phone--are making headlines today.
Our two most relied upon computing/communications devices--the laptop and the cell phone--are making headlines today.

The failure rate on laptops (and desktops)--failure defined as necessitating replacement of a hardware component--is dropping, but remains higher than a rate I'd consider optimal.The annual failure rate of notebooks ranges from 15% for systems bought today to a projected 20% in three years (the rates are significantly lower for desktops). In my experience, the corporate-issue laptop has been a stalwart; I can't recall a hardware failure in more than 10 years with a notebook. The personal laptop I purchased about 18 months ago--a middle-of-the-road model from a top-name supplier--is flaking out, with failures or near-failures of critical components that have me convinced I'll be replacing it before it reaches two years of age. Are 15 to 20% of you experiencing hardware failures on laptops less than three years old? If so, that's not a great indicator of product quality, even if it's better than it was before.

Laptops, with poor handling and inadequate security practices, have emerged as another weak link in a long string of customer data losses. There's a must-read update from The Wall Street Journal. Companies, it seems, are finally responding to the problem. In a report called "Laptop Lockdown" (subscription required), the Journal details companies that are aggressively tightening (or creating) policies regarding data that can and can't be on laptops, how those laptops must be handled, and so on.

Boeing now requires laptops to be physically locked with a cable to a stationary object in offices, conference rooms, and cars so that no one can walk away with them. It forbids confidential data from being stored on laptops. And it's begun random audits of laptops to check for unauthorized or unsecured files. The most sensible and obvious of these measures is the policy defining what can't be stored on a laptop. There's no excuse for other companies not to follow suit, at least on this one obvious security practice.

As much as we rely on laptops, the cell phone is equally critical for business and personal communications. Yet when traveling by air, one of the last things many of us want is a chatterbox on a cell phone within earshot. Despite some earlier signs that cell phones would become ubiquitous in the air, progress has slowed. A closely watched Boeing service may be terminated, Verizon is ending its Airfone in-flight service, and the near-term outlook for cell phones on planes in the United States is "bleak," according to our report. There's nothing bleak in that news.

An in-flight cell phone slowdown won't matter to Intel, which made an unceremonious exit from the cell phone processor business following what InformationWeek blogger Darrell Dunn labels as a failure of historic proportions, leading to the sale of the business to Marvell for $600 million despite an investment estimated in the billions. Dunn observes that Intel tried to slip that one by quietly under its splashy Woodcrest server processor announcement earlier this week. No such luck.