Saturday, January 10, 2009

Why business phones are awesome no more

When I first started in IT, I thought getting a pager was the coolest thing. I could carry it around, almost like a badge. "See, I'm important!" it yelled to everyone. "Everyone can contact me" whenever needed! Of my group of friends, I was the first to get one. I was kewl. At bars I looked like someone important. I could pickup chicks with it because they could see I was "the man". I dreamt of the day of having a work-provided cell phone, because though I wanted a cell phone, they were much too expensive at the time to justify the monthly.

Years later, I graduated to my first personal cellphone. It was now a badge of importance. By this time in my life I was married with kids and house in the burbs with my very own brick of a cell phone. It was convenient to have, and one typically justified the monthly cost as "I need this".

The curse of curses was soon to arrive, I just didn't see it in my headlights. It came around the corner in an awesomely brilliant flat-black motorola disguise, the Nextel.

Over time I moved IT jobs just like everyone normally does when they're young. I had recently moved to a new venue. They suggested that with the importance of IT ever-increasing, IT needed cellphones. We received Nextel phones. We were the only staff provided phones. We were l337.

It took only about a week or two for the honeymoon to wear off. When you are on the couch for the evening and someone from work beeps in "Shane, Shane are you there. I thought of something" and then 10 minutes later does it again... and again. When your wife ends up describing the phone as "that damned beepy thing" and "if you don't shut it up I'm going to throw it in the toilet". When your heart skips a beat and you cringe anytime you hear the Nextel beeps no matter where you are, you know something's not quite right.

Luckily it only lasted about a year. It turns out the Nextel coverage out where we were wasn't all that great. We were missing calls and having connectivity issues.

Our phones were upgraded to Sprint phones. I liked this phone very much. I could tap into it to get online when needed with my laptop (Dell Inspiron 8000 I believe, cool at the time but now viewed as a "brick"). This phone was reliable, the coverage was excellent. It was tiny and silver and with the remote connectivity was everything I'd ever wanted in a phone. I pulled old code from my sourcecode repo's from the pager-days for announcements. Our equipment and systems SMS text'd us as needed. Even threw a nice little perl scripted web page up so people could SMS page easily enough.

Alas, this too was not to last. We weren't the only ones given phones. This time it was corporate bigwigs that were using Sprint phones with us. And it turned out some of them weren't having much luck with reception.

When our contact was up, we switched to Verizon. All staff who had phones sang with glee. Except me. I was quite happy with my prior phone. We were told Verizon would give us the best coverage. Which some of our staff do agree with. But not me, I wasn't having problem-free reception. And I couldn't just tap into the phone's bluetooth to get online with a laptop. Oh no, Verizon plays games with crippling phone's bluetooth protocols. So you can't always sync your phone's contact information in/out. And you certainly cannot assume that you'll be able to use the phone's bandwidth to get your laptop online.

We've stayed with Verizon for quite a few years (still are to this day, in-fact). We'd even been upgraded from the normal tiny cellphones to the WinMobile PDA/phones.

I hated these WinMobile phones. Winmobile (was it 4? or 5?) version at the time sucked. Slow. Crashed all the time. I immediately begged for a different phone. Nope, this one's what everyone wants, it has a keyboard and everything and you can get your Outlook on it". Sigh. (To my supervisor's credit, he did bend over backwards and was able to finagle a choice for me, but the choice was a phone without Bluetooth or one with but Verizon had hacked it so bad no one who had it could get online. Though I had a choice, I really didn't).

The phones we were given just flat out sucked. They crashed all the time. Eventually only a full reset helped. But you had to put all your information back into it every-time you did a full reset. Once, ok. Twice, no problemo. Tenth time, forgetaboutit! Slowly, but assuredly, it turned out I wasn't the only one having such problems. A staff revolt ensued. People were missing calls. Their phones crashed. Verizon sent us new "black" versions of the phones that were supposedly better. For a short time period they were. But they really were not.

Fast forward to this past year. It was deemed these WinMobile phones had to go. Viva La Revolucion! I rejoiced! We were about 3 months from the supposed iPhone 3G rollout. That's the phone I wanted. Everything I had read signaled this would be the phone to have for quite some time.

But wouldn't you know it, I was presented with a shiny silver box from Verizon. My new shiny silver Blackberry phone arrived! They had bought everyone Blackberries. Why? So everyone can "stay in touch" and "your Outlook is in it" and "it has a keyboard" and "it doesn't crash".

Keep in mind this was done about 3 months before the 3G iPhone was announced. I pleaded this was a rush decision, that we should have at-least waited for the new to-be-released iPhone to appear to make a decision. Nope. This was it.

I had joined the Crackerberry gang.

People that I knew, that had a Blackberry, welcomed me. "Your one of us now, young Padawan" they said. "You can download stuff on this and use it as an mp3 player" (I was already on my 2nd or 3rd iPod by then). "You can reply to your email wherever you are" they exclaimed.

Blech! By this time, I didn't want to be connected 24/7. In-fact, I was damn well tired of it. Sure, I have IM running most days and nites. Yes, IRC too. But that's to "my electronic life". It's to keep in touch with people on freenode and open source projects and side-work. I will admit I use IM to communicate with a select few of my real life friends that are electronically inclined.

Most of my friends don't know what IRC, IM and Twitter are. They have a cell and they use SMS. Some have a gmail or some-such free email and only occasionally check it.

When I go home, I can turn these things off if I choose. In-fact, I can turn the entire computer and network off if I like and it in silence and read a book. Or go take some photographs. Whatever it is, I can disconnect and be in peace.

You can't turn the blackberry off. You can't stop it from beeping that there are new corporate emails because someone from work couldn't sleep and are emailing at unGodly hours.

And if you do turn it off?!? The faithful scream "but you're not supposed to turn it off!! You'll miss something!!".

I did not like the Blackberry phone. The UI was horrid. The browser was severely lacking and painful to use. They keyboard was small, the keys were lit with a blue that made it hard to see them. People will be quick to point out this is not blackberry's fault, but the phone manufacturer's. Yes, I know. Guilt by association.

But worst of all, I did not like the fact that I could not seemingly keep my work information on the phone totally separate from the personal stuff when I synced the phone. In iCalendar, I had two calendars, one for each. I use Exchange for work, and various pop/iMap for personal (ie gmail) picked up with Mail.app. Everything was kept 100% separate, even contacts. I was told the answer was "well just put everything Outlook".

Say what?!? That's totally *not* what I want. I don't want anyone at work to know that from 6-8pm I'm going to Lady Heather's place for a 2 hour wild session. (ahem joke...).

I was just tired of being on call 24/7 all the time. "But the website's important, it can't go down". "You need to be online all the time". Yes, I realize this has nothing to do with the Blackberry, per se. It's corporate policy. Many would say "If you don't like it, leave" I suppose.

Uh, no. 100% uptime is what you want? Then buy a load balancer set and redundant equipment. Shell out the cash for infrastructure. Make it happen.

When the iPhone 3G came out, I waited in line and bought one. I spent that week investigating it, to see if I could do everything with it that my Blackberry did.

It did (and more!), and I gleefully turned in my Blackberry.

Yes, that's right. I said it. I willfully gave my Blackberry back. I gave up my free ~$85/month phone.

My neighbors and friends with Blackberries did not understand how I could do such a faux pas. "I'd give anything if my employer gave me a phone" I heard that several times. I heard the "You're an idiot" in some people's breath or in their tones. People casually whipped out their Blackberries and demonstrated how easy it was to do the things they do with their phones. They eagerly showed me, visually showed me, sometimes stepping into my face near forcefully, that I was insane and must come back to the fold.

It's been near 6 or 7 months now that I've left "the clan". The past year has seen some of the quietest, most stressless (from work, anyway) times that I can ever recall. I'm not reading work email all the time. I'm not on a beck and call.

And I absolutely love my phone. It works. It works as advertised. My work and personal information is on it, and it's 100% seperate. If I need to, with a click, it can sync back and forth with work's systems giving me email and calendar and contact information. Or not, if that's what I want. Most amazingly of all, I can code up whatever app I want for it if choose to (which I do!). This phone is one of, if not the best gadget, that I've ever purchased. It is so useful, that this is the first time in my life that if I lost the phone I would really be "lost" because of the conveniences it provides.

For those of you who may have read all of this, take heart. Load balancers and equipment for redundancy were ordered too!! The light at the end of the human-on-call-for-24/7-uptime is shining!!

1 comments:

Satri said...

Pretty interesting. You're obviously not an idiot. I don't care about people offering me a blackberry for free. I simply don't want one. (well... if my employer was to provide an iPhone to me... :-) I don't want to manage devices I don't really need. The things we own often end up owning us!