VMware WorkspaceONE Notifications are a crime against productivity

reading time 3 min

VMware’s WorkspaceOne has an annoying feature on macOS where every time it does an update you get a notification. This steals my cursor, interrupts my work, and breaks my concentration.

The notifications are useless: they don’t tell you what was updated… just that there was an update. There is nothing actionable in the notification.

I would turn off the notification but… that setting is “locked” in System Preferences. Users can’t turn off these notifications.

We wrote about software that behaves this way on page 97 of The Practice of System and Network Administration (3rd edition). It is unacceptable, and potentially unethical, for software to do this.

This also violates an alerting principle we explain in The Practice of Cloud System Administration: Alerts have 3 categories: Action required now, action required soon, and no action required. Many IT teams get themselves all screwed up because they misclassify notifications or use email for notifications. As a result, they create a “boy who cried wolf” situation which leads to “alert fatigue”. (The solution, by the way, is: action needed? alert. Action needed soon: open a ticket. No action needed? Log it somewhere.)

In my book Time Management for System Administrators I write about how notifications and other distractions kill productivity. Once distracted the human brain takes 7 minutes to return to being “in the zone”. This setting in WorkspaceOne literally steals 7 minutes of productivity from every employee in your company, multiple times a day. Every senseless notification is another slap in the face to everyone with ADHD. Making it impossible for users to disable… well that’s just unethical.

Wow… WSO has achieved quite a trifecta: You’ve violated at least one major principle of each of my 3 most popular books.

What makes this particularly ironic is that all three of those books recommend automated system configuration tools. While WSO isn’t mentioned by name (the books are older than WSO), it is certainly in that category. If Gartner had a “magic rectangle” for with “doing the right/wrong thing” and “doing it the right/wrong way” as the two axis, this would categorize this feature as “doing the right thing [automation] the wrong way [useless notifications].”


So, if this feature has zero benefits to the user (content-less information) and has many negatives (stealing productivity) then why do companies do this?

I don’t have ESP but I’ll make two guesses:

Guess 1: the product designer was careless and bad at their job. That’s forgivable… everyone should be afforded the opportunity to learn and get better.

Guess 2: an evil executive thought that these notifications provide some amount of “brand awareness”. Perhaps they think that a user might be at a cocktail party where one person complains that their laptop is mismanaged and someone else at the party will spring into action and say, “Gosh, my company uses…. damn… what’s the called? I’ll let you know the next time I see one of those fabulous notifications that I get multiple times each day!”

Sorry, Charlie, that’s not how it works. Instead, the conversation probably goes like this, “OMG! I hate my IT department! They make us use something called an MDM. I don’t know what it is, but the notifications come from something called WorkspaceONE. You should avoid it like the plague!”

So anyway….

Luckily the IT department where I work (Stack Overflow) is brilliant and has started working on a way to disable these notifications.

I do hope that someone at Vmware decides to change the default setting. This kind of thing should be off by default. Heck, they should remove the notifications feature all together.

(If someone at VMware would like to discuss this, please reach out to me on LinkedIn)

Tom Limoncelli

Tom Limoncelli

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