More free downloads claim space on corporate desktops

End users are downloading consumer tools like IM and Skype to use at work -- a trend that is making some IT managers cringe.

Users are adding free software to their wish lists this holiday season, but not all IT managers are keen about letting unauthorized downloads live on corporate desktops.

In many cases, employees just want a faster way to communicate or simply want a break from the mundane. Either way, they often aren't waiting for permission from the IT department.

A popular download for employees at Web-based software maker BTI is a free tool called Skype that lets users make Internet calls to anyone around the world who also has Skype installed.

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"Skype has become not just a niche tool but a prevalent means for communication -- especially since our staff and associates are scattered across five continents," said Ronald S. Tumulak, IT research and development manager at BTI, headquartered in Manila, with offices all over the world.

Long before Skype, it was instant messenger. As malware came on the scene, Tumulak's team began to educate users on how to spot dodgy IM requests and report them.

The group ultimately standardized on Trillian, which gave the IT department the ability to organize IM logs into a single repository and map them to a single file server to backup and archive all IM communications, Tumulak said. "The combination of immediacy and ease of use has been key to IM's growth as an essential work tool for everybody," he said.

Not all IT shops are fans of instant messaging. At Legum & Norman Inc., a residential and commercial property firm in Alexandria, Va., IM has been banned altogether.

"It was a corporate decision because our clients weren't using it, and it was really being used for buddies," said Bruce D. Boyce, IS/IT director at Legum & Norman. "It interrupted their work, and we can't secure it."

And across many corporations, users are downloading desktop search tools like Google's and X1 Technologies', said Duncan McAlynn, an independent consultant in Austin, Texas.

Microsoft recently came out with Windows Desktop Search 3.0. Like desktop search tools from Google and X1 Technologies, the Microsoft product helps users find and preview content on their PCs including email, documents, files, music and photos.

Although it may save end users time and boost productivity, McAlynn said it threatens confidentiality of sensitive information. "Desktop search tools can actively scan and archive emails of sensitive information," he said. "That is a violation of confidentiality. Someone can just walk up to a Google tool bar and start pulling up email that [is] indexed by Google, for example."

In the case of IM, McAlynn said corporations should federate on one across the enterprise to provide corporate-level protection against spam and viruses.

One senior systems engineer is sticking with what he has for the time being. The Massachusetts-based insurance company where he works needs to see a real need, he said.

"At this point we do not have a good business case for IM," said the systems engineer who asked that his name be withheld. "It certainly has come up in discussions, but it is not a high priority. Wireless has been evaluated, although we have security concerns. Deployment of wireless has been quite limited, only for special business needs."

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