opinion; Company IT police punish Charles Arthur for having 'naughty' add-ons
I knew something was amiss when I arrived in the office on Monday morning and found my computer screen on. A tiny detail, but as telling to me as an open front window to a householder returning home. I always turn both my machine and screen off after work. This wasn't right.

I turned on the machine - my corporate Apple Quadra - and hit the keys to connect it to the office network. It ran through the start-up sequence, opening various programs (my Internet e-mail, internal e-mail, word processing, newswire system, screensaver and Netscape). And yes, something was wrong.

The hardware was fine. It was the software that was messed up. The enhancements that I had pulled together, piece by careful piece, over the past year were gone - the elegant screen enhancement that allowed me to have 10 windows from four different programs accessible at once, the eye-pleasing font that went with it (replaced by a harsh, ugly one I had long ago rejected). And for some unknown reason, my anti-virus scan was warning me that my TCP/IP program (to connect to the Net) might be a virus - something it hadn't ever done in the past year.

I knew right away what had happened. I had been visited by the corporate IT department.

The people in these departments, I know, exist in a state of war with their "users" (often pronounced with an "L" pre-pended). They find them just plain stupid. When helpdesk people gather, they swap tales of complaints about keyboards not working (not plugged in, or using the one from adjacent machine), or of the "cupholder" having broken (CD-Rom drive drawer, whose use the owner didn't twig). IT people seem to think that all users are dumb, and so need brutal treatment. It's the Vietnam solution, as applied in that war by the US grunts - the way to win hearts and minds is to blow out both.

But I'm not the average user. I've been on PCs since 1982 (and used the Macintosh's forerunner - the Lisa - in 1984). I like customising the machines I use, and for that the Mac is tops, with a galaxy of freeware and shareware.

Some might sound trivial. But it mattered. I find it annoying if a machine beeps at me when I make a mistake. I had replaced that with a freeware program which turned the beep into a harp arpeggio - less a telling-off than a nudge.

Then, thanks to a shareware program called Aaron (based on published ideas about Apple's forthcoming operating system, Copland. Geddit?), all the windows had a three-dimensional appearance, and a pleasant font into their title bars. I discovered it some time ago and now can't bear machines without it.

Finally, a freeware program called WindowShade meant that rather than having to squeeze windows into tiny shapes and shuffle them around the edges of the screen, I could reduce them to their title bars with a double click, arrange them in a stack, and open each at my leisure. Useful, that, when you're swapping between five different newswires and three different stories at once. And finally, it so happens I like having Egyptian wallpaper as my screen background.

But I had accumulated so much of this stuff that my machine is now a delicately-balanced ecosystem. I admit, there are thickets of programs on my hard disk which I am loath to disturb. But what had the IT department done? Deleted Aaron, and WindowShade, and the sounds I found useful. It was as though some mad hunter had sprayed Agent Orange over the jungle where I lived in native splendour.

Worse was to come. After re-installing Aaron, I restarted the machine. It began the start-up sequence. Then the mouse pointer disappeared. Then nothing. I turned off and on again (guaranteed to solve 90 per cent of problems). Nothing. But the machine had worked perfectly last Friday. I called the IT Helpdesk, who told me these sorts of things are the responsibility of the IT department. I called them, and they told me to call the Helpdesk.

Finally, I established what had happened. I was suffering the Curse of the Upgraded. Over the weekend, the internal e-mail system was upgraded, as were the anti-virus programs on my machines.

But the man who had done the upgrading had found my extras, and known that they were A Bad Thing, and deleted them. Why, I asked, did he do that? "Because they corrupt things," he said. They've never corrupted any of mine, I pointed out. "Look," he said, "I'm not going to argue with you." No indeed. You might lose an argument, after all.

But in the course of "saving" my system from corruption (funny - somehow it had managed to muddle along for a year without a problem), he had almost killed it. The machine was hanging up while trying to decide if the mail was a virus: the anti-virus update had been imperfectly done.

It took me the rest of the morning to get my machine back to what I see as normal. At least I know now never to bother calling the IT department when I have a problem. The cure is worse than the disease.