Notebook trackpad cursor controllers may be the single biggest design problems effecting consumer notebook designs. The most important element of the portable computer notebook design is the user experience. And that boils down to how easily someone can unpack their machine, set down in front of a keyboard and productively work. Unfortunately, the performance of most track pads is so erratic that users have to learn how to position their hands and palm on each notebook they use. Most portable computer manufacturers have little control over trackpad design. Track pads are commodity parts most often purchased from the lowest bidding supplier and the resulting user experience suffers from this practice. I believe that the user experience is the single most important element in a successful notebook and I have yet to unpack and test a notebook that didn’t require spending time to adjust a track pad’s sensitivity or other attributes. It shouldn’t be this difficult and I shouldn’t need to carry a mouse-pointer in my notebook bag in order to really be productive with a notebook. My experience with notebooks that use track stick pointers or which have built in mechanical mice is altogether different. I u npack them, turn them, on and work for hours on end, a happy camper. For years, the reason why I recommended business notebook brands such as Toshiba’s Tecras and IBM ( and more recently Lenovo) ThinkPads and handful of others was because they used track stick pointers for cursor control. But my all time favorite notebook—Hewlett Packard’s original Omnibook 300 through 800 line didn’t use a stick pointer at all; it had a small mechanical mouse built into its side. HP’s mechanical mouse was a thing of beauty. It was built like a tank, lived safe from accidental damage in its little mouse house on the side of the Omnibook. But more importantly, in the four years I carried HP Omnibooks, not one ever failed. Not once! My love affair with touch screens has a lot to do with cursor control. If I want the cursor to do something specific, I just use a stylus to place it where its needed and perform a specific operation. Track pads may let me pinch, squat, squeeze and grunt but the result of inadvertently hitting a track pad creates an execrable experience that gets in the way of the user experience. The solution to the problems with track pads won’t come from the lowest bidders of 500,00-part track pad orders, or their software partners. It has to come from notebook designers who have a vested interested in making their products different by optimizing the user experience. Until this happens users will keep accidentally sending their cursors to screen realestate that’s unimagined.—Jim Forbes, 11/25/2009
If you think netbooks are proof of the old adage “good things come in small packages,” then you’re going to love a new generation of ultra compact notebooks that are trickling into retail outlets in time for the forthcoming Holiday season. The new class of portables offer battery life exceeding that of any netbook, I’ve examined so far, plus full-throttle computing power that’s absent in most Intel Atom processor powered netbook. Oh, and unlike previous ultra compact notebooks, the new ultra portables are affordably priced (under $500 for the Gateway EC1430u in the following review), there’s no reason not to get small now. How small? Consider Gateway’s new EC1430u, a feather light power house with Intel’s latest incarnation – a low voltage 2.1 GHz processor that brings life back to the venerable Pentium brand, up to 4GB of fast memory and a zippy 320GB hard disk.. Three USB ports, a 5-in-one card reader. a local area network connector jack and an external Video and an HDMI port, and the usual compliment of audio output and input jacks round out the connections on the rounded edges of the EC1430u'sleek case This tiny machine has a keyboard that didn’t cramp my hands despite my banging on it for hours on end as I tried to write each night on a four-state trip eastward from California.. Despite encountering WiFi networks with some of the most convoluted sign on-routines I’ve ever experienced, the EC1430u got me through the trip with ease, connecting to public networks from the edges of truck stop parking lots One of the features that caught my attention up front was this notebook’s track pad, which because of its placement in this notebook’s smallish keyboard space, seemed never to get accidentally hit (a trait I hate on most notebooks with larger screens). Points go to Acer’s and Gateway’s design staffs for delivering a small form factor machine, that’s easy to use, a joy to carry and which delivers phenomenal battery life that beats any production notebook I’ve tested in three decades. I like the EC1430u's 11.6-inch screen because it’s bright and delivers crisp displays that didn’t require I use reading glasses to check my email at night. Also despite this notebook’s small size, it has a well above average audio system, that’s makes listening to my travel music a joy. How good is the EC1430u's battery life? In two days of constant travelling, I never once had to recharge this machine and I arrived at my new house in CO with about 1.25 hours of battery power remaining in its six-cell 5600 amp hour power pack. At less than four pounds, the EC1430u is a great travel companion and it’s been such a joy to use that it eliminated any jitters I had about its operating system, Windows 7. Gateway’s EC1430u isn’t a hot rod netbook. It’s a full featured portable that delivers almost everything you’d expect in a portable except an internal optical CD/DVD drive at a price performance level that makes the choice between a this machine and a stripped down, cheaper netbook, a no brainer. The Gateway EC1430u is a hands down winner in my book and gets my unqualified recommendation because of its excellent basic feature set and unparalleled battery life.—Jim Forbes 11/24/2009.
I’m one of several hundred thousand Americans who take care of an elderly parent. And I”ve discovered it can be a full time job that comes with a generous heaping of sleep deprivation. I recently moved from Southern California to a small rural town northeast of Denver, and after a lot of discussion with my mother—who lives with me and who relies on me to take her shopping, the beauty salon and to our HMO. Ma said she wanted to move with me. I thought things were going swimmingly in the new digs: I like my new house, love the town of Brighton and fell instantly in love with Colorado. My mom, who is 91, had just the opposite reaction. She felt isolated, and had been intimidated by the little 3-inch snow fall we had our first week here, and started calling her friends, and a handful of family members back in CA. Well, you can imagine where the waste flowed from there. Soon the begging to return to California kicked in, and then came the phone calls from loved ones MaForbes had talked to. “What were you thinking of when you moved her to Colorado?” is something I’ve heard a lot recently. It’s a disturbing query to me. What I was thinking of was: a new life, grad school, learning to write in a new voice, and renewed friendships with former classmates, colleagues, entrepreneurs and closely held friends. Besides at the time I moved from California on Halloween, I had come to the realization that I was horribly lonely and starved for affection. But most of all I was thinking about a living environment where my mother was free to use all of my house and not remain isolated in the addition I built at my place in Escondido, pinned to the television watching Law and Order reruns in the afternoon. Mom couldn’t adjust to the altitude here in the Denver burbs and has had difficulty breathing, which was the piece that finally let me solve the equation of encouraging my mother to go or urge her to stay here. So MaForbes is leaving my house in Brighton, toddling onto Southwest 737-400 bound for Southern California tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. She’s spending the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend with my big brother at his house and I’m sure she’ll have a lot of fun. My respect for Southwest Airlines has returned as a result of this experience. It’s reservations agents helped me route my mother back to Ontario, CA with a minimum of fuss and made sure Ma will have a wheel chair pusher to the gate here in Denver, at her intermediate stop in Las Vegas and from the plane to the baggage retrieval are in Ontario, CA—where my sister in law will pick up Ma, her cat and her bag in the thick air of Southern CA. Oh and Southwest came through with a low senior fare. Southwest, your tops here in my blog: You have my thanks, my business and a recommendation on my blog. Good customer service wins every time in my world. I’m sad that Mom is leaving and hope she can spend a few of her remaining days, sitting in her chair on her porch in Escondido, watching wild long-tailed weasels tear after cotton tail bunnies zigzagging through my old peach trees. It’s going to be odd not having her as part of my daily life. Through good times and bad, Ma has been behind me and for the lat 25 years I’ve enjoyed our interactions. So, as I’ve learned in countless 12-step meetings, G*d really does have a way of doing for me what I can not and will not do for myself. And to family members who’ve questioned me over the last four weeks, “yes, I have joined a local non denominational church and yeah, my soul is a little more peaceful.” And I found this piece in Colorado; a land spoken of reverently by both sides of my family many of whom lived here in the time of the silver and gold booms. There’s no trout season here yet there’s an abundance of fish and the air, while thin is clear, and the vistas to the east, west and north are breathtaking. The view to the South? Well, I’ve been so busy looking at the night skies in the other three compass points that I’ve not made the time to look there. But the time will come. Soon. There’s a lot to recommend Colorado. The Denver area has a unique culture and its suburbs are filled with the politest people I’ve ever met. On the weekends the parks overflow with parents, grandparents and children and if you walk the South Fork of the Platte fishermen are happy to show you their catches and tell you what kind of fly they used to tease a tasty trout to their creel. To come full circle, while I’ll stay in touch with Ma Forbes by phone on a daily basis, I’m snuggled up here in Brighton, CO, my copies of Hemingway by my side, my computer connected via a high speed link to the Internet. And I’ve a strong feeling that the rest of my life has finally opened up. So I apologize for the lack of recent posts. I’m alive here in CO, experiencing things I’d only dreamed of before.—Jim Forbes, on 11/23/2009 from Brighton, CO.