Dell Latitude Z meets Lotus Symphony: What happens when you bring your IT to work?

Dell Latitude Z meets Lotus Symphony: What happens when you bring your IT to work?

Summary: There's a compelling case to be made for corporate users to bring their own IT to the workplace, but there are hurdles. Here's a tale of what happens when a new laptop meets an alternative office suite and tech support.

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The vision of the corporate technology future goes like this: Workers will ultimately provide their own wares and equipment. It starts with the smartphone and ultimately moves to the laptop. To hear research outfits like Gartner tell it the future is one where IT costs are off-loaded to the users. But is that really the case? Probably not today.

I've been fascinated with the emerging trend of employees rolling their own IT and saw a nice experiment on the horizon. Dell provided me with a Latitude Z to review. For the uninitiated, Dell's Latitude Z is a luxury laptop. It's sort of a MacBook Pro and MacBook Air rival. It's light. It has a 16-inch screen. It's a sports car of a laptop. And it's the type of laptop some CEO—or well-heeled employee---would buy for himself and tell the IT department to support.

The big questions: How does it work when you bring your own laptop to work? How painful is it when you decide to be an odd duck with the productivity software?  What's supported (and not supported)?

For me, these questions needed some real answers. I'm tired of my Lenovo T61 brick and would like something lighter for travel. The general concept is to have the T61 lying around but primarily use my own gear—a poor man's Latitude Z like a Vostro v13.

For this experiment I went the fancy route with the Latitude Z, but the basics roughly line up with what life would be like if I brought my own laptop. The Z didn't have Microsoft Office installed and on my own dime it's unlikely I'll pay the extra for it either.

This review will touch on multiple points:

  • The hardware and what would drive you to bring your own gear to work.
  • Getting through the day without Microsoft Office in an environment that's Office dominated and using the alternatives available.
  • The support, or lack of it you'll receive.

Let's get rolling.

The hardware...

If you're going to bring your own laptop and make it your primary work PC you might as well go in style. Think MacBook, think Latitude Z and think something that makes you the cool kid at the meeting.

The Latitude Z fits that bill. The laptop even turned a head or two on New Jersey Transit—of course I was probably surrounded by fellow geeks but you take what you can get. To get real, the Latitude Z should have turned a few heads because it's damn pricey.

Indeed, the Latitude Z as tested was more than $3,800, but that includes a wireless inductive charger and a stand. Both of those things I just didn't know what to do with so I doubt I would order them in real life. The Latitude Z starts at $1,799 for a base package to $2,159 for the productivity package.

For comparison's sake I would be looking to spend maybe $800 at the most. .

A few specs to ponder for the higher end Latitude Z:

  • Windows 7
  • Intel Core 2 Duo SU9600 with VT (1.60GHz) 4.0GB DDR3 Internal Memory with Latitude On
  • 16.0 Wide Screen WXGA HDF+ Display WLED Panel and Camera/Microphone
  • 3 Year ProSupport for End Users and 3 Year NBD On-Site Service
  • 64GB Mobility Solid State Drive
  • 8X DVD+/-RW Slot Load w/Roxio and Cyberlink PowerDVD
  • Internal Backlit English Keyboard
  • Facial recognition
  • Business card reader
  • Fingerprint reader
  • 5 pounds if you have a six-cell battery

The laptop is pretty sweet even considering the fact that I didn't spend a lot of time figuring out the fancy business features. One comical point: The entire package from Dell included the kitchen sink, but skipped the Microsoft Office.

A few thoughts and observations on the hardware:

Advantages:

  • The screen is large enough to be a desktop replacement.
  • It screams alpha (and perhaps even stylish) male.
  • Even your Machead pals will notice it.
  • It fits on a NJ Transit train.

Disadvantages:

  • I'm not entirely sure I need or want a 16-inch screen.
  • Good luck firing this puppy up on a plane in coach.  It got along just fine on the train, but there's little chance that the Z flies well. I suppose you could be sitting behind some petite person that never puts her seat back in full recline in coach, but I usually get the big and tall types.
  • The screen doesn't fit into your standard laptop bag and that goes double if you're cramming gym clothes and a weightlifting belt into the backpack too.

But if you can convince the IT department to buy one of these Latitude Z's chances are you don't spend a lot of time in coach so many of those disadvantages are moot.

Unfortunately, I'm a coach guy.

Add it up though and it's clear that Dell has design chops these days and some of the perks of the Latitude Z can filter down to less expensive products in the portfolio. Bottom line: The Latitude Z is a fine option if you're going to bring your own laptop to work. Just don't expect it to be the perfect solution for road warriors.

Being an Office renegade...

Since the Latitude Z lacked Office I figured I'd explore some alternatives. My basic requirements and personal preferences:

  • I wanted a desktop suite for the most part due to travel requirements.
  • I wanted something that could manage multiple file formats, notably Office documents, well.
  • I wanted something that had a good user interface.

For this experiment, I went with the IBM Lotus Symphony 3.0 beta. Generally speaking, I liked it. You could tab through multiple documents on one screen and frankly you barely notice the difference from Office in many cases.

For me, Symphony works well. I'm not a power user so looking for something that can open various docs and look the part. I could open PowerPoint docs that were in the .pptx format, but if I altered them to send back I'd have to change to .ppt not a huge issue, but if you're volleying a doc back and forth it could get sticky.

For instance, If I were to alter a PowerPoint and save, Symphony would default to OpenDocument Format. That's just swell, but I'd rather stick to whatever format was sent to me. I could scroll to save as .ppt, but then there's probably another translation on the other side. Not a big deal, but could get weird. Symphony could use the .pptx format. Note: Personally I don't get the .pptx format or the point of it, but I'm not interested in going to war over it. I just want the docs to work with absolutely no additional work from me.

Simply put, an alternative Office suite with a cloud supplement works just fine for me. Symphony could replace Office and I would continue to use Google Apps and Docs as I do now. Or conversely, I could give some other suite a whirl. For that matter, I could download Office 2010 as a beta and avoid paying up front.

There was one area that went unsolved: Replicating what Outlook does. When it comes to Microsoft Office, Outlook is the go to app. I look at spreadsheets and presentations, but frankly wind up with Notepad more often than not as my word processor. Symphony didn't have an email client forcing me to largely rely on Outlook's Web mail, or OWA. That solution just won't cut in long-term.

The lack of an Outlook replacement had me looking for Outlook Express, which only exists on  Windows XP. Windows Mail is an option, but I couldn't get it started on the Latitude Z for whatever reason. If that can get hooked up to CBS corporate then I may be in business.

Bottom line: I've seen enough to determine that I don't need to buy Office when I buy a laptop for personal use.

The IT support conundrum...

The big question here is whether you should bother buying a personal laptop if you plan to use it mostly for work. My answer: Not in my case. My personal laptop could be a supplement for travel but little more.

This Gartner scenario---where users bring their own gear and the employer perhaps subsidizes equipment via an annual laptop stipend---will just have to wait.

I pretty much hit an IT support brick wall. Here's the short version:

  • IT doesn't support Windows 7 yet.
  • The VPN for Windows 7 isn't cooked up yet.
  • My corporate Office license wouldn't port over to my personal laptop.
  • Ditto for Outlook.

So if I'm going to do bring my own laptop to work in a bring-your-own-IT arrangement I'm confined to Web Outlook. I could buy Outlook on my own, but I still wouldn't have a VPN. I'm sure there would be some work around, but I'm not in the IT business.

The lesson: For this grand vision of users bringing their own infrastructure to work to happen corporate policies need to line up to support the move.

Topics: IBM, Dell, Hardware, Laptops, Microsoft, Mobility

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81 comments
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  • Thunderbird?

    for an email client, you can't go wrong with thunderbird

    add the lightning pluging for calendaring too.
    unknownweirdo@...
    • Or Evolution

      Don't forget you can get Evolution for Windows, it's like Outlook. You
      can get it here:
      http://www.dipconsultants.com/evolution/download.htm

      I also wonder if Novell's OpenOffice.org for Windows might not have
      been a bit easier.

      Also if your company is on a MOLP you can often get Microsoft's
      software for employees without incurring a license cost, but this is
      done on a seat by seat basis (the number of employees licensed this
      way can't exceed your total deployment - I **think** the employee is
      supposed to be one with a "seat" at work, though how that jives with
      "hotdesking" I don't know - it's been years since I had to deal with
      Microsoft MOLPs).

      If you're doing this with a Mac, you may find the Mac OS X tools
      enough (you'll need the most recent version of Exchange in the office
      though).
      Jeremy-UK
    • Thunderbird? Not where I work

      Thunder bird doesn't work with Exchange, and before any one suggests it I'm not turning on Imap Or Pop support.
      Also I don't have enough anit-virus licenses to "give away" to everybody with a laptop who wants to bring it into work.
      As has been pointed out in other posts I'm also not going to start to repair home laptops because some muppet installed some malware or virus riddled software, or if they dropped it in a lake.
      Home Laptops will never be acceptable in a large firm or some one with information they don't want spread around the web.....
      a.ross.nz
      • MS Outlook = Virus magnet...

        Funny, you do not have Virus/Worms with a Linux
        Distro such as RHEL5.x or Ubuntu or SuSE or name
        it they ALL work with applications.

        The day is over saying applications cannot work,
        not when it is going to the cloud.

        Evolution has an Outlook connector however, I
        use www.icewarp.com for a Email server.

        Virus free and it runs on RHEL/Ubuntu or Cent...
        tux_engineer
        • @tux_engineer

          We go through this time and again.

          Most companies support Outlook as their official client, thus making it the industry standard. That makes it the virus target of choice for anyone wishing to attack a wide audience.

          RHEL5/Ubuntu/SUSE/Fedora/whatever are not the disto of choice for business in general. MSFT XP is, soon to be 7.

          And since this is addressed to you.

          "You cannot put a Windows server facing the public Internet..."
          You don't put ANY server "facing the public internet" as you put it, without some sort of firewall in between. Unless you want a free storage system for random hackers.

          "It is funny all of the Public Internet Servers/Routers/Switches (including all backbone devices) are some sort of Unix/Linux distro."
          It's also funny exactly how many printers/routers/anything with memory are comprimised with various malware on them waiting to infect anything that connects. Why hack a company one computer at a time when you just have to hit a printer?

          "The MILLIONS of bot nets are all Windows machines."
          You said it there, the millions. The majority of computers run a Windows OS of some sort, then Apple, then some variation of the thousands of Linux/Unix distros roaming the net.

          We get it, you like Linux and hate MSFT. But the reason Linux OS's in general are malware free is that there is no one Linux, Linux still does not equal Ubuntu, and they're going for top distro. While there are hundreds or thousands of distro's for a minority of users, there will be no malware. As soon as Ubuntu replaces MSFT, it will die a horrible death.
          Cyberjester
  • RE: Dell Latitude Z meets Lotus Symphony: What happens when you bring your IT to work?

    I don't want to start another OS war but have you considered
    Linux with OpenOffice.org/Lotus Symphony and GNOME
    Evolution as an Outlook replacement?
    pschella
  • It depends on who you work for

    My employer, a major computer vendor, does not allow non-corporate devices on its network and provides a desktop or laptop to every employee who needs one, so it is a total non-issue for me.
    bmeacham98@...
    • RE: It depends on who you work for

      I run IT at a small software development company. We're pretty flexible here; we support our users and provide them with everything they need to work and we allow them to bring their own equipment in if they choose to.

      Obviously there are some caviats for personal equipment: for example, 1) if they choose not to comply with our security policies, they can use our public network only, not the internal company network. 2) we're mostly an MS Office shop, but if someone prefers to use Thunderbird instead of Outlook, that's fine...however support will be limited if they have an issue with Thunderbird that can't be replicated in Outlook. That's usually not a biggy though. 3) If they choose to run Linux or another OS instead of Windows; all the power to them. In fact I run Linux myself and only use a Windows virtual machine for stuff like managing Active Directory and such.

      In response to the company that does not support Windows 7 and does not have a Windows 7 compatible VPN client; are you fckin kidding me?? Must be some big corp that outsources their IT to bunch of scrubs, should have a talk with the CIO and recommend him to hire a college intern to come clean up the house.
      Scratchi
      • about your last paragraph

        WOW! Nasty much?
        moebiusloop
      • SUpporting WIndows 7, et all

        It is not always the IT department that drives the issues. We would LOVE to have the latest and greatest.

        Then reality kicks in with licensing, development cycles, deployment cycles and BUDGETS to get in the way. Oh, how about all those enterprise class providers of backend systems (VPN, AV etc) that have not deployed their Windows 7 support yet or have just released Windows 7 support.

        And if you think a college intern can just come in a magically do it, you need a healthy dose of reality.
        PeterBoyles
      • Win 7 At Corporate

        Most business use is still Windows XP these days. I work at government and the standard is still XP. The issue with upgrading is that limited IT departments with LIMITED budgets are not going to dump something that works for something that... is going to cost money. Also, many IT departments don't want to support a mixed environment. It gets too hairy to support that. Also, many of the applications are not off-the-shelf and are home-grown and even interface to huge mainframes. At the least, there would need to be compatability testing. Something else that costs money, especially if one thing doesn't work and there is no way to change it. That's why, many places are still on IE 6.x.

        At large business and government organizations, the college intern would run screaming.
        hforman@...
        • Run Windows ?

          So you run all Windows desktops/server and you get infected with the normal viruses/worms/spyware/malware and of course hackers love Window platforms.

          You mention Government = BLACK HOLE of Tax dollars.

          NO private company could be in business if they followed suit with the Printing presses of the current administration spending money like water.

          Lastly, Windows Server/desktop is NOT a smart choice when ANY application can be coded to run on any operating system. The argument that there are no applications is HOG WASH!

          You cannot put a Windows server facing the public Internet...

          I amazed at the money wasted on insecure software, no matter what anti-virus, malware detection it gets infected...

          It is funny all of the Public Internet Servers/Routers/Switches (including all backbone devices) are some sort of Unix/Linux distro.

          The MILLIONS of bot nets are all Windows machines.
          tux_engineer
      • Go ahead...

        and hire your college intern to clean up YOUR house. We'll stick with professionals who have been around the block.
        bobavery
  • One issue: Unmanaged machines on the corporate network.

    I don't know what you are seeing but I see the majority of companies restricting (No access) what can be connected to thier networks. The chances of a personal machine being infected with malware is just to large. Face it, the average user just isn't consious enough of malware issues and often don't do updates to the OS or their anti-virus application in a timely manner not to mention where they have been surfing.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • There are measures...

      ...that can be put in place like endpoint analysis to ensure an employees laptop meets the minimum requirements such as an AV product that suits the corporate security policy and whether the latest definitions are installed and a scan has occured in the last 24 hours etc. If the endpoint doesnt meet these requirements it is automatically restricted access to the network.

      This technology is already available and in widespread use. Like the article says though it will take the employer and it's IT department to make the first move before this type of working can become mainstream.
      Sm1dg3
      • Sort of true...

        But I've seen far too many machines infected with root kits and the AV software says everything is fine.
        No_Ax_to_Grind
      • Our network group setup a guest LAN wired and wireless

        for contractors that come and go and consultants. They can get to the Web and their webmail, and such. But are isolated to the a DMZ type setup. Users who want to try this could be placed on that until a "standard" is setup, and I'm sure there are other ways, which were referenced.
        ItsTheBottomLine
      • Yes there are alternatives but..

        I know I dont want to be called everytime somebodies personal gear doesn't work. I don't want to coach employees with crapped up machines how to get there crap fixed so it will work on the network. I setup the VPN quarantine and all the other endpoint steps you refer to for a test and it turned out to be more trouble than its worth. The easiest step was to just say no. we use a lot of AD group policies for our desktops and all of that goes out the window when the employees personal gear isn't part of the domain. Not to mention all the company vertical applications dont get installed. This might be a OK plan for a small startup company or a limited number of users with a not very sofisticated IT setup. In the enterprise it's just chaos.

        I ended up accomodating the odd contractor or vendor by segmenting off a piece of the network and calling it good. they get Web and can get to their emails but thats it.
        FL_IT_Guy
    • Except that these same companies

      give their employees laptops. So, while IT talks a loud talk about
      managed/unmanaged machines, they don't walk the walk.
      frgough
      • Ultimately I think there will have to be

        Some IT policy balance. More gear will be brought into the enterprise by the worker.
        Larry Dignan