Laptops

Three rules for supporting laptops

Laptop computers take more care and support than desktop computers, but Ted Laun's three rules for supporting laptops can limit the headaches often associated with computers on the move.

With the advent of high-speed access from homes and hotels, more and more organizations are boosting workers’ productivity by providing laptop computers.

Despite this trend, desktops computers still vastly outnumber laptops in today’s corporate arena, in part due to the relative ease associated with supporting desktop computers. Nevertheless, there are still a number of companies that are ahead of their time when it comes to laptops. TechRepublic is one of them. According to Ted Laun, help desk analyst at TechRepublic, “We’re a freak of nature, having more laptops than desktops.”

Laun has three rules that he considers vital to supporting laptops. They include the following:
  1. Laptops should be configured to use DHCP whenever possible.
  2. Remote access should be made as simple, yet secure, as possible.
  3. A spare laptop for every model supported must be kept on hand.

In this article, we will take a closer look at each of these rules.

Repeat after me: DHCP is my friend. DHCP is my friend.
Most users will be taking their laptops from your network and plugging them into networks in branch offices, client offices, and hotels that provide high-speed access. To facilitate this mobility, all corporate networks at the main headquarters and branch offices should be set up to allow dynamic IP address distributions.

“When I came to TechRepublic, three of the four remote offices at the time had static IPs,” Laun said. “So every time someone came to our corporate offices from a branch office, the support staff would have to set their computers up for DHCP. Often, they would leave town to return to their branch offices without thinking to have their computer reset to the static IP. When they got back to their office, they wouldn’t be able to connect to their LAN.”

Remote access made simple
Laptop users often find themselves in hotels without high-speed access or at a client’s location where they are unable to gain network access. In such situations, users need a backup communication method. This typically means a built-in or card modem on their laptop.

Because employees of TechRepublic travel to cities around the globe, TechRepublic chose a dialup ISP that has local connections throughout the world.

The ISP’s dialup client is installed on every laptop and is configured for each individual user. All the user has to do is plug a telephone line into the RJ11 port on the computer’s modem, launch the dialup client, select the city from which he or she is calling, and then hit the dial button.

There are a number of problems that support staff might encounter when helping a user who is making a telephone-line connection—and many of them are out of the support person’s control.

Users often don’t know when to use a 9 prefix to get an outside line, or they sometimes forget to change their settings to the correct city of origin. The telephone cables may not be connected properly. The user might be trying to call out on a digital system. The location’s telephone service may be inferior.

Users need to understand that they must approach a dial-up connection patiently.

“It’s not going to be easy, and it isn’t going to be fast,” Laun said of dial-up connections.

Once users get connected, security becomes an issue if their traffic will be crossing the Internet via an ISP or through a high-speed LAN connection.

Virtual private networks (VPNs) are a perfect solution for many enterprises because they offer both security and the ability to access company resources from the field.

Don’t de-spare
One of the best ways to avoid major laptop problems is to keep a spare laptop on hand for emergencies. Even when portable computers are in-house, they still require special care and support.

Sometimes specific laptops will not mate well with certain docking stations, even when both come from the same manufacturer.

Compared to desktop computers, laptops have smaller versions of the same equipment. Smaller parts can be more delicate and prone to damage.

Then there are laptop-specific issues.

Laun remembers getting a call from a remote office one day, and the user was having a peculiar problem. The left and right mouse buttons by the computer’s touch-pad mouse had stopped working.

Laun shipped a spare laptop of the same make and model to the user’s office and had the hard drives swapped out. The nonfunctioning computer was sent back to the corporate offices.

Nothing appeared to be immediately wrong with the computer, but the buttons would not work. Laun called the user and during the course of the discussion learned that in preparation for a trip, the user had changed batteries in the laptop with a battery that had never been used before.

Laun popped the battery out of the laptop and, comparing it with another battery, noticed that there was a thicker edge on the replacement battery than the original. Laun took a knife and shaved off the extra plastic on the battery, put it in the malfunctioning laptop and sure enough, the mouse buttons worked perfectly. The extra plastic had distorted the case just enough to prevent the mouse buttons from working.

This problem was easily fixed thanks to the spare laptop that was available.

Keeping a spare laptop for every model in use in an organization has one drawback that bothers Laun. TechRepublic has five different models of laptop in circulation, so prudence demands five spares on the shelf.

“When someone needs a laptop, can I justify buying another at $3,500 when I’ve got five sitting there on a shelf?” Laun asks.
What kind of rules would you create to make supporting laptops easier? How are you able to offer equal support for both laptops and desktops? Send us a note or make a suggestion below in the discussion.
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