Letter to the Editor: Computers Are Too Restricted!

T. Willenborg, Gator's Eye Reader

The Gator’s Eye received the following letter to the Editor from Green Level student T. Willenborg.

Wake County puts an incredible number of restrictions on our computers, from our browsers to the operating system itself. These restrictions often get in the way, interfering with legitimate uses – all while failing to improve security or safety of students. 

62 different restrictions are applied to Google Chrome. Let’s examine a few of them at chrome://policy

AllowDinosaurEasterEgg: false

  • Yes, Wake County disabled the dinosaur game…Just… why?

AllowedDomainsForApps: “students.wcpss.net, wcpss.net,gserviceaccount.com”

  • I guess they won’t let us sign in with personal google accounts… Rather annoying if you use chrome’s password manager, or just need to access your email. 

BookmarkBarEnabled: true

  • You mean that I can’t even hide the bookmarks bar??? I want my screen space back! 

DisableSafeBrowsingProceedAnyway: true

  • Wake County should know this doesn’t work… When their own certificate expired, people were instructed to override safe browsing security warnings in order to access Wake County websites – with this new policy, overriding such warnings is now impossible. 

ExtensionInstallBlacklist: *

  • I guess I can’t install extensions… But what if I wanted dark mode? Or larger text? Or less ads? Extensions are often used to help people work better, or to allow people to personalize their computer – hardly something that should be blocked. Making even less sense, THEMES have been restricted, preventing people from setting their browser background. 

HomepageLocation: wakeid.wcpss.net

  • After signing in to my google account on a chromebook, I get taken to the Google account sign in page – I’m just signed in!!! This policy not only stops personalization, but also brings people to a website that is, at the moment, useless, since they are already signed into their Google account.  

Chrome, however, is far from the only thing restricted by Wake County. Policies have been applied to the Windows operating system that prevent people from enabling personalization features like dark mode, prevent people from enabling accessibility features like high contrast mode, and make it exceedingly difficult to access programs like command prompt. 

At first glance, attempting to block command prompt may seem like a good idea – after all, command prompt lets people run their own code on the computers – but in reality, blocking command prompt is a horrible mistake. To see this, one needs to look no further than one of our courses, Python Programming I. 

Left – Vi text editor, used by Python I. Right, default ChromeOS text editor. 

Because of the restrictions on running code on our computers, it is unreasonable for our programming courses to use anything but online services – online services that have us using a command line text editor from 1976 – a text editor that doesn’t support mouse pointers, doesn’t auto indent, doesn’t support find-in-text, and lacks many of the other features that we now take for granted. Why are we wasting time indenting every line when real text editors do this for us? Why are we teaching people to use a sub-par text editor that they will rarely, if ever, use in the future? For that, we have software restrictions to blame. 

That’s enough. Wake County has over a hundred policies between Chrome, Firefox, and Windows – policies that obstruct learning, to no useful end. We can question every one of these restrictions, but what we should really be questioning is the premise – if you won’t let us use your hardware, then why did you buy it?