Should Apple iTunes be allowed on company computers?

Apple’s iTunes is by far one of the most popular and widely-used consumer IT applications available today.

It’s likely more of your users have an iPod and employ iTunes than staffers that don’t, especially if they’re at all tech-savvy.

And many of those folks have probably installed the program on their corporate computers – unless, of course, there are measures in place to stop them from doing so.

I’ve got iTunes on my work PC, and I use it everyday – ahem, for work purposes, of course.

As you may have guessed, I’m a writer. And when I’m buckling down to scribble out my next product review or blog entry, I plug in my earbuds and unplug from the cacophony of office clatter around me.

I really do use iTunes to get work done. (Though I must admit there are a few episodes of Lost on my hard drive, as well.)

Last week, a staffer from my IT department sent out an e-mail to the company, reminding us that our corporate PCs are business tools owned by the enterprise and that they should be used as such.

Read about the B.C. School District’s iTune ban.

Personal files such as photos or music – no, iTunes wasn’t fingered specifically, but we all got the point – should be kept on our personal PCs, and not on our work machines.

I understand why our IT department doesn’t want iTunes installed on all their computers. I know that iTunes itself is a memory hog, music files are large, and collections of iTunes songs or video clips can be enormous.

The performance of enterprise computers is affected by iTunes, and it can then be assumed that performance of the iTunes-using employee is also affected. There are also a number of potential copyright issues smart CIOs need to consider.

Many organizations ban iTunes outright. Marriot for instance doesn’t allow iTunes registration on its corporate machines by users. But is that the route to take?

My colleague Ben Worthen in an article argues that such an approach is the wrong way to handle consumer IT applications such as iTunes.

Worthen cites an April 2006 survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which found that 45 percent of adults who use the Internet said it has improved their ability to do their jobs “a lot.”

But, he says, CIOs shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back – not just yet. That’s because – while Pew’s finding undoubtedly includes people who use the Internet to access corporate applications, Lee Rainie, the Pew project director, says the research is not pointing to what a good job CIOs have been doing – but tells very a different tale.

“The big story,” Rainie says, “is that the boundary that existed in people’s lives between the workplace and the home has broken down.”

Worthen argues that the era in which IT comes only from your IT department is over.

Here’s the jist of his argument:

Almost unlimited storage and fast new communication tools allow people to use whatever information they choose, whenever they want to, from wherever is most convenient for them.

According to Pew, 42 percent of Internet users download programs, 37 percent use instant messaging, 27 percent have used the Internet to share files, and 25 percent access the Internet through a wireless device. (And these numbers are all one or two years old. Rainie “would bet the ranch” that the current numbers are higher.)

Does that sound like the tools you’ve provided your company’s employees? Do you encourage them to download programs and share files? Do you support IM? Have you outfitted a quarter of your company’s employees with wireless devices?

“A consequence of the blending of worlds is that people bring gadgets from their home life into the workplace and vice versa,” says Rainie.

For example, a December 2006 survey by found that only 29 percent of companies had a corporate instant messaging tool, a number that seems relatively small when compared with the percentage of people Pew says use IM in the office.

Users have a history of providing their own technology, but the capabilities of today’s consumer IT products and the ease with which users can find them is unprecedented.

Thumb drives, often given away free at conferences, provide gigabytes of transportable storage. Google spreadsheets and other online documents let multiple people collaborate in one file.

The Motorola Q, a phone that uses the cell network as an always-on high-speed Internet connection (and can be yours for just $125 on eBay) lets users forward their work e-mail to their phones without ever touching a mail server. And those are only three examples.

There’s a consumer technology out there for every task imaginable, and if there isn’t, there’s a tool that will let someone create it tomorrow.

I tend to agree.

In light of the upcoming release of Apple’s iPhone, I thought now would be a good time to hear what you, the CIO, have to say. No doubt, you’ve considered the issue before. And if you haven’t, you’d better.

Apple recently announced that anyone who wants to use the much-anticipated – and in my opinion, over-hyped – iPhone will need to create a separate iTunes account on top of another with AT&T, which has an exclusive agreement with Apple to distribute the device. That means more iTunes accounts on your machines.

Is iTunes a threat to corporate IT departments? Should it be banned outright, or should there be IT policies specific to the application? Users might like it if you ignored their iTunes use at work or while employing corporate machines outside business hours, but is this an acceptable approach from an IT manager’s standpoint?

I’d hate to have an IT staffer appear beside my desk one day and demand that I dump my iTunes files, but I’m not naïve enough to think it couldn’t happen.

If it were up to you-and for some of you out there, it is-would you allow iTunes use on your corporate PCs? If so, should it be regulated somehow?

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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