With the holiday season now upon us, finding gifts for your fellow IT professionals and system administrators can sometimes be a challenge, especially when you’re working into the wee hours of the morning salvaging a corrupted backup, or logging late nights restoring the CEO’s laptop (which accidentally got dropped it into a water hazard on the back nine while he was “working” on the corporate business strategy for 2012.)
So in the interest of helping readers with their Christmas shopping--and with tongue partially planted in cheek--I’d like to present this gift guide of both serious (and not-so-serious) holiday gifts for your favorite IT pros. Many thanks to Windows IT Pro readers @jfield, @bensonk42, and @johnobeto for their suggestions and input as well.
The Red Stapler (Swingline, $15)
The movie Office Space has emerged as a cult classic, thanks to its unerringly accurate portrayal of the office politics, byzantine corporate policies and procedures, and memorable personalities that most office workers endure on a daily basis. One of the most memorable bits of the movie deals with beleaguered (and perpetually befuddled) office worker Milton Waddams, who guards his red Swingline stapler like a security blanket. Staple manufacturer Swingline responded to the ensuing demand for red staplers by creating one. Note to film buffs: The actual stapler used in the film wasn't actually red, but was a standard stapler painted red by the prop department.
Macbook Air (Apple, $999 to $1599)
There are several aspirants to the ultralight laptop throne on the Windows side of the fence – the Acer Aspire 3 and the Samsung Series 9 spring to mind – but the Macbook Air still reigns supreme as the archetype of what an ultralight laptop should be. Granted, the Macbook Air’s puny Intel HD Graphics 3000 graphics processor doesn’t have enough horsepower to run the most demanding games and video applications very well, but it does fine with just about every other task you can throw at it.
Han Solo Ice Tray (ThinkGeek, $10)
It’s a cliché that everyone in IT likes Star Wars, but most of the people in IT that I know are most definitely fans. There are three things upon which most Star Wars fans can agree: Han most definitely shot first; Jar-Jar Binks was really a passive-aggressive attempt by Lucas to destroy the Star Wars franchise; and the bestest Star Wars movie of them all was Empire. One of the most memorable scenes in Episode V was Han Solo being encased in carbonite, something which you can now relive every time you pour yourself a frosty beverage and drop Han Solo encased in carbo…erm, ice into your liquid of choice.
ProTech Base Toolkit (iFixit, $59.95)
Finding the right tool to tighten up a server case, snip through fried drive cables, or perform one of the millions of tasks that an IT pro has to do on a daily basis can sometimes take as long as the task itself. That’s why this toolkit from iFixit can be a godsend for a busy system administrator. It has all the tools for practically every possible task that an IT pro could face, which makes it a perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite sysadmin.
USB Fiber Optic Christmas Tree (Amazon, $12.99)
We’ve all heard stories about beleaguered unappreciated IT pros being called into the office at 2:00am on a holiday to restore some critical business service, and the upcoming holiday season is no exception. For your favorite IT pro who has to restore the Exchange Server or recover lost data on Christmas, at least they can have their very own Christmas tree to lift their spirits as they work to restore vital business services.
Smartphone IT Apps (Various, starting at .99 cents)
A smartphone is an important part of any system administrator’s toolkit, and a good selection of IT-focused apps can make the difference between solving a problem now and having to make a lengthy trip back to a thoroughly non-mobile desktop PC. Windows IT Pro reader @bensonk42 suggested the Android OS apps ConnectBot (an SSH client), AndFTP (a secure FTP client), Overlook Fing (a network scanner), and WiFi Agent (which provides “kismet-style wireless goodness”) as his favorites.
Star Trek Enterprise Pizza Cutter (ThinkGeek, $19.99)
Whether you love or hate Star Trek, you have to admit that this groovy pizza cutter crafted in the shape of the starship Enterprise is product design at its best. Who wouldn’t be impressed when you whip out this stainless steel replica of everyone’s favorite Constitution-class Federation starship to work your pie-carving magic around the holidays?
iDrive (PrankPack, $8)
Playing off the ubiquitous popularity of the iPad, PrankPack has created a joke product box that extols the virtues of a device called the “iDrive.” A perfect gag gift for any Apple fan, the hollow iDrive box appears to contain a device that lets drivers strap an iPad, calculator, or many other potentially-lethal distractions directly to their steering wheel. It’s a gag, but I have a sneaking (and terrifying) suspicion that there are far too many people who would actually consider buying something like this if it was a real product. (Extra points for the "A wheel great idea!" product slogan.)
Skyrim (Bethesda Softworks, $60, PC/Xbox 360/PS3)
If you know an IT pro that’s a fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, World of Warcraft, or any of the thousands of other fantasy movies, books, and games in existence, you can’t go wrong with Skyrim. This little gem offers hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of single-player gaming goodness, which is a welcome change from the industry trend towards shorter and shorter games. One caveat: Although it recently won a prestigious Video Game of the Year award from Spike TV, the retail release of Skyrim (and some subsequent patches) have been plagued with bugs and glitches. Not sure if the VGA judges played beyond the intro screen, so be prepared for multiple patches and updates (especially on the PS3) to realize the true--and undeniable--potential of this expansive game.
Modern Warfare 3 (Activision-Blizzard, $60, PC/Xbox 360/PS3)
Our own Paul Thurrott has already praised this latest release in the Call of Duty first-person-shooter franchise, which once again throws players into the midst of a globe-hopping (and fantastical) hunt for Russian ultranationalists. The single-player campaign veers perilously close to becoming a unbelievable farce, but the addictive multiplayer is why most people plop down the $60 for this title.
Batman: Arkham City (Warner Brothers Interactive, $60, PC/Xbox 360/PS3)
Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3 may have generated more sales, but Batman: Arkham City is arguably not only the best video game based on a comic book character ever, it’s also one of the best games released over the past few years. It's so good that it should catapult game developer Rocksteady Studios into the vanguard of AAA+ video game developers. The top-notch writing, impressive spoken dialogue, and superlative single-player campaign put Modern Warfare 3 to shame, and the solid, largely bug-free open-world gameplay should make Arkham City a must-play requirement for everyone on the Skyrim dev team. Highly recommended.