When IT pros set up PCs for other people, they are often tempted to make assumptions about what users prefer, how the system will be used, and how users want their desktops to look. While they rarely cause serious problems, such assumptions can create headaches for both you and your end users. In this article, I’ll describe two real-life examples of when an IT pro didn’t keep the user in mind when changing a system’s settings.

Not everyone has eagle’s eyes
The first example comes from my personal vault of less-than-stellar support experiences. When I set up my father’s system, I quickly got a complaint from my mother that “the cards were too small.” I had set the resolution to 1024 X 768, making the cards in FreeCell and Solitaire too small for her 70-year-old eyes.

I talked her through resetting the resolution and tried to interest her in a second Windows profile, but that was too ambitious for a phone call.

I always set the resolution to 1024 X 768 because that is my preference. I think that 800 X 600 wastes screen space and limits what you can do. Nevertheless, from now on I will leave any system I am working on running at 800 X 600. Although my mother’s problem wasn’t serious, there’s no question that an inability to read the screen could pose a big problem for a corporate client.

My new PC is not working
Soon after my own resolution mix-up, I received a frantic call from my non-IT-oriented friend Tom, who had just acquired a new PC. Tom had plugged his brand new system into an old 14-inch monitor. It booted, the Windows welcome screen appeared, and then the image broke up into the unrecognizable tessellation that support techs are all too familiar with.

From Tom’s description, I knew that the resolution was set too high for his monitor. To keep it simple, I picked up my lightweight, flat-panel, thin-film transistor (TFT) screen and drove to his house. (Tom gets house calls from me because he always offers me a single malt, over which we sit and chew the fat about computers, boats, and life in general.)

On my screen, his system displayed beautifully, so I reduced the resolution to 800 X 600, a setting Tom’s old monitor could handle. We then went online to buy him a new monitor that could make better use of his new system’s graphics capabilities.

Don’t let this happen to you
I hope these two examples will make you think about end users before you go tinkering with their settings. The tech who assembled Tom’s system later admitted that the screen used to configure Tom’s PC was a 21-inch, high-resolution affair on which the tech normally watches DVDs. The tech took his high-performance monitor for granted; an assumption that caused Tom, a nontechie, to believe there was something wrong with his brand new computer. Had I not been there to help, this tech would have had a very angry customer at his door, wondering why the computer didn’t work.

Desktop lockdown

While the end user’s preferences should always be deferred to on personal computers, that is not always the case with corporate systems. Too much customization can lead to increased work for the IT staff. We want to know how your IT department manages the workstations in your organization. Post a comment to this article and let us know how you’re locking down your desktops.