26 October 2004

Admin rights on staff desktop computers

One of the issues to come out of the discussions currently underway on the development of a Common Operating Environment (COE) on staff desktop computers is administrative rights to the computer.

In the Division of Communication and Education our practice has been to give staff administrative access to their computers. While the computers are all installed with the same basic image, giving the user administrative access means they can change settings, install software, manage updates and a number of other functions to adapt their computing environments to better suit their needs.

With a broad range of IT skills and experience in the Division, and the differing requirements between staff, this means there are over 300 machines that can all be configured differently around the Division: complicating maintenance and support.

In other organizations, and elsewhere in the University, IT units control the desktop much more tightly so that users must contact their support staff in order to install software, change settings or install updates. While this reduces the opportunity for end users to render their machines inoperable, and therefore reduces the needs for IT support, it also means end users are restricted by the IT staff in what they can and cannot do on their computers.

One option currently under discussion is to tie the level and type of support an end user gets to an agreement with the user about administrative access to their computer: a higher level of support would be available to users who forgo administrative access to their computers than would be available to users who want to retain their administrative rights.

In order to manage which end users have administrative rights and which don't, each end user would be required to declare their preference when they apply for access to the University network. A draft agreement might look something like the following:

DRAFT Client Agreement: desktop computing facilities

I understand that the University will supply me with a computer of standard hardware and software configuration as determined from time to time by the University.

I accept that, as a condition of using the computer, I will abide by the University's Network Access and Use - Responsibilities and Obligations statement.

I can elect to have either:

  • Administrative access to the computer: I can install software, drivers, applications; alter settings and other configurations of the computer, within the limits set by the University's Network Access and Use - Responsibilities and Obligations statement. I understand that if I choose to have administrative access to the computer, I will not expect the support of the University to look after the computer. If support is required, I understand the University has, at its discretion, the option of returning the computer to its standard configuration before providing support. Support for my computer will receive no priority over support for users who have elected not to have Administrative access to their computers. I acknowledge that the University has the right to keep the computer's virus protection and operating system patches up to date as it sees fit, and will in no way prevent the University’s ability to access the computer through its own administrative account.


  • User access only to the computer: I do not have administrative access to the computer and will rely on [technical staff] to keep my computer up to date and operating under the standard hardware and software configuration. The only files I expect to retain are those saved on my University-supported network drive.

By signing this form I agree to abide by the University's Network Access and Use - Responsibilities and Obligations statement. I acknowledge that my use of the University's facilities is a privilege, not a right, and that if I break the terms of this agreement the University may issue me with a warning, deny me access to computing resources, refer for prosecution, or administer other penalties, depending on the nature of the infringement.



Why we use Flat Panel Displays

The issue of why the Division of Communication at the University of Canberra uses flat panel displays rather that cathode ray tube computer monitors has been raised recently.

For the past three years the Division has purchased flat panel displays exclusively for desktop computers for staff and student labs. They are more expensive (more than twice the cost of the traditional cathode ray tube, or CRT, monitor), unproven in terms of longevity compared with CRTs, don't reproduce colours as well at the high-end graphics CRTs, and lower end flat panel displays can smear video so that it doesn't look as clear as video displayed on a CRT.

Flat panel displays (not to be confused with flat screens, which are flat CRTs) are also called Thin Film Transistor (TFT) displays or more commonly these days Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs).

So why do we buy them? An article by Professor Alan Hedge from Cornell University (Ergonomic Considerations of LCD versus CRT Displays) summarises the arguments for use of the devices by citing research from a number of sources.

As members of the Division's administrative staff will attest, the displays are easier on the eyes and better to use. There is no image flicker, the displays are brighter and sharper, and the image more uniform, than CRTs. Flat panel displays take up less desk space, are lighter, can be positioned more easily and with greater flexibility, use less power and produce no radiation and far less heat (replacing old, large CRTs in Building 9 New Media and Journalism video editing labs has removed the need to provide an additional air conditioning plant to serve the Media lab area).

While the initial investment has been higher, over time the cost to the Division is less, and staff and student satisfaction higher, using flat panel displays rather than CRTs.

12 October 2004

Portable computers

The Division has decided to give staff the opportunity to use a portable or laptop computer in place of their desktop.

While the University Information Management Systems Committee (UIMSC) is yet to complete its Laptop Policy, in its discussions of the matter at its meeting no. 2004/4 held on 15 June 2004, the Committee noted, among other things, that:

The additional equipment required to be issued with laptops are: an additional mouse keyboard; carrying case; monitor and riser (docking station).

A base system portable computer costs the Division between $1,800 and $2,300 depending on the brand, more if extras like a DVD burner or wireless network card are required: to add an additional mouse, keyboard, carrying case, monitor and riser or docking station could conceivably double the cost of the computer.

Next year's IT Loan is already oversubscribed without taking the extra costs for portables into account: desktop computers cost us around $2,000 each, much less than the final cost of a portable if all the items required by UIMSC are to be supplied as well as the basic portable computer. The proposals for replacement and new computers for 2005 submitted to the Division's IT & Infrastructure Committee is based on the cost of a desktop, so we won't be able to buy as many computers if there is a strong demand for portables.

The Executive of the Division has noted the additional costs of portable computers and agreed that new staff of the Division will have a choice of portable or desk-based computers. Continuing staff will eventually have the same choice through a rolling program. The costs for portable computers compared with desktopswill be clarified once the University's laptop policy is finalised by UIMSC.

Update 29 July 2005: The Division’s new laptop policy has come into effect.

Move to Building 9

After many years of discussions, the Division has successfully swapped space in Building 2 for space in Building 9.

The decision to swap Divisional space in Building 2 with Category A space in Building 9 has some impact on the Technical Services Unit: between 1 and 12 November all the Division's equipment and materials will have to be removed from Building 2 and either disposed of or relocated.

We have no storage space in the Division, so most items no longer in use will have to be dumped: this particularly has an impact on the School of Languages and International Education, by far the greatest user of the space. School staff should ensure, by 1 November, that arrangements are made to keep any items currently in Building 2 to be retained: anything not claimed will be disposed of then.

IELTS testing

Some of the space in Building 2 to be handed back to Facilities and Services has been used for IELTS testing. At this stage there are no plans to replicate the facilities elsewhere in the Division, so alternative arrangements will need to be made for any future IELTS testing.


The Division is unlikely to have the funds in 2005 to replace the Information Management lab computers, which are well beyond their replacement dates. Any classes that were to be using the Information Management lab next year will have to be rescheduled into Building 10 or other Divisional labs.

All other classes currently timetabled in Building 2, apart from the Languages Computer lab which will move to Building 9 in November 2004, will be rescheduled into newly refurbished Category A rooms in Building 2 to be completed over the 2004-2005 summer break. It is also hoped to move any classes currently scheduled into the Category A spaces in Building 9 to refurbished Building 2 spaces, leaving the rooms in Building 9 available for short term bookings until the reorganisation can take place there.

Minor Works

The Division put in an ambit minor works bid to spend $175,000 in 2005 on refurbishments to Building 9, to repurpose the space from 9B14 through to 9B27 to better suit the current and future needs of the Division. It was proposed that a consultant designer be brought in to work with the various stakeholders in the Division and in Facilities and Services, to come up with a detailed costed proposal which would then be implemented.

Facilities and Services has advised that the proposal is not specific enough to be considered by the Buildings and Site Committee, but has agreed to take forward a proposal for the contracting of a consultant designer to work with the Division and, with Facilities and Services, to come up with a costed plan that would then form the basis for a bid in the 2006 round of minor works proposals.

In the meantime, the Building 2 Languages lab will be moved to Building 9, and some refreshing of other areas would be undertaking late this year or early in 2005.