Trendlines from 4/15/08: New, Hot, Unexpected

In this issue: The cap on H-1B visas; Corporate mash-ups; Face-reading computers; The lapsing landline; China and RFID; Banning of social networks; The value of big monitors; Efficiency in IT shops; and By the numbers, including IT modernization.

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More Companies Ban Social Networks

Companies continue to clamp down on social networking sites at work. Nearly 20 percent of organizations surveyed by security vendor MessageLabs blocked social networking and dating sites in February due to concerns about employee productivity and malware.

"Organizations need to raise awareness about the risks of these sites," says Paul Wood, a security analyst with MessageLabs. IT departments, he suggests, need to update electronic use policies to reflect newer Web 2.0 technologies. "Some of the policies are not up to date."

Wood says it wasn't always clear how malware entered users' computers or networks as a result of using social networks. However, he cited a case where a user visited a fake MySpace page that served a pop-up ad that looked like a Microsoft software update. Clicking on it took the user to an illegitimate site that tried to install malware over JavaScript.

The report echoes the concerns IT leaders expressed in a recent survey of consumer technology by CIO. Nearly 10 percent view social networks such as Facebook and MySpace as the biggest consumer technology threat to their organizations. Around 18 percent cited consumer-based e-mail like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail as the greatest threat to their organizations.

However, Wood says, "It's not just about e-mail anymore. People need to know how to conduct themselves on blogs, IM and social networks."

If IT institutes electronic use policies that educate users about the sites they visit, better security will follow, Wood argues. "It's more of a management issue than a technology issue," he says.

-C.G. Lynch

When Bigger Means Better

Can you see your way to wasting less time?

One new study says yes: Organizations that upgrade their employees' standard-format monitors to wide-screen displays can realize productivity gains equivalent to 76 extra workdays a year per worker, as well as annual cost savings of more than $8,600 per staff member. (That math assumes a staffer who makes $32,500 annually.)

The study, called "Productivity, Screens and Aspect Ratio," was conducted by the University of Utah and sponsored by NEC, a maker of computer monitors.

Ninety-six university staffers, faculty and students, broken into three different computer aptitude sets&mdash:novice, intermediate and advanced—participated in the study, which took into account the time needed to complete set spreadsheet and editing tasks, editing performance and monitor preference, among other factors. All three groups were significantly more productive using 24-inch or larger wide-screen monitors (1920x1200 resolution, or larger) compared to 18-inch displays (1280x1024 resolution), according to the research.

The study found that upgrading workers' 18-inch, standard-format monitors to 24-inch wide-screen displays cut the average time to complete such tasks by more than 30 percent.

Additional findings include:

Large wide-screen or dual-monitor configurations are better suited for work that involves multiple documents or applications.

Twenty-four-inch wide-screen displays are better suited for text editing than both single standard-format (17-inch and 19-inch) and dual standard-format (17-inch and 19-inch) monitor configurations.

Dual wide-screen configurations in 22 inches or larger are better for spreadsheet editing than single wide-screen or standard-format displays.

Net annual cost savings of using 24-inch wide-screen monitors in place of standard-format, 18-inch monitors, including electricity and monitor costs, is roughly $2.1 million a year for 250-employee companies and about $4.3 million for firms with 500 staffers.

-Al Sacco

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