Office Paperclip Meets Big

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2004-07-12 Print this article Print

Brother"> What did concern me, however, was the desktop of the future trying to "help" me by watching what I am doing and comparing it with what everyone else is doing. Used properly, this is potentially very cool and the goal is laudable, even if the privacy concerns shoot right off the charts. Heres the pitch: Microsoft has noticed that people in a company are often working on the same sorts of projects and arent aware of it. Maybe they are duplicating work already done someplace else. Or they dont know who the in-house experts are that they might call upon for help, perhaps because the experts themselves dont know who they are. Now, suppose there existed, with apologies to Alan Parsons, an eye in the sky, looking at you and reading if not your mind then your keyboard strokes. It would then parse all of this information and compare it with what everyone else was working on, or had worked on in the past. Thats like reading everyones mind (and documents) in an entire company.
When the computer found a match, it would tell the user what resources existed relating to the project she was working on. The system would present documents, spreadsheets, lists of people and anything else it could find related to the users current content and projects. You could also just query the system looking for information, literally from everyones document files in the whole company.
The privacy and security concerns this raises are simply incredible. You could compartmentalize the information, perhaps only allowing searches within particular workgroups, but that severely limits the value of the tool. On the other hand, the proverbial "bad guy" could mine such a system for all sorts of competitive intelligence and intellectual property. Microsoft says to expect a billion Windows PCs by 2010. Click here to read more. The employer could use the system in all sorts of novel employee performance-monitoring schemes, beginning with what someone is doing and how long it takes to do it, to measuring how often someones work ends up being used by someone else, or perhaps even the intellectual quality of the content a given worker creates. The technical challenges in accomplishing this are immense. Taking all of this information and filtering it properly—without inadvertently hiding information and giving users a false impression of what information is actually available—is a really big deal. This same sort of searching capability, tied to the analytical functions of the desktop "applications," could be used to create a corporate decision support system that I also found frightening. Next Page: Cutting people out of the equation.

One of technology's most recognized bylines, David Coursey is Special Correspondent for, where he writes a daily Blog ( and twice-weekly column. He is also Editor/Publisher of the Technology Insights newsletter and President of DCC, Inc., a professional services and consulting firm.

Former Executive Editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk, Coursey has also been Executive Producer of a number of industry conferences, including DEMO, Showcase, and Digital Living Room. Coursey's columns have been quoted by both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and he has appeared on ABC News Nightline, CNN, CBS News, and other broadcasts as an expert on computing and the Internet. He has also written for InfoWorld, USA Today, PC World, Computerworld, and a number of other publications. His Web site is

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