I hate my Thinkpad T30

I hate to say it, especially given that my godmother used to work for Big Blue, but I really hate my thinkpad at work.

There’s actually only one thing that really annoys me. I don’t think any of the developers actually used some pieces of the bundled software, which, in theory are one of the differentiating factors between IBM Thinkpads and other laptops. One piece of bundled software, the “Presentation Director” is especially obnoxious. Apparently none of the other laptop manufacturers have this feature. Right now, I’m wishing that one of them would steal the idea and make a version that actually works.

The “Presentation Director” seems like a bright idea. It’s intended to be used to switch between a “presentation” mode where you are attached to a projector, a “laptop” mode where you have just the laptop’s screen, and a “usual” mode where you have a monitor attached and you want to use the LCD screen on the laptop, plus a nice large external 21 inch display. And, hey, because the 21 inch CRT is so damn huge, why not make that the primary monitor (i.e. the one with the start menu)?

Some other nicities are possible. It would be nice if it detects when you have docked it so that it can switch to your “usual” desktop mode. And it would be doubly nice if you could hit a key combination if you forget to switch it to “laptop” mode when you leave so that you can switch it then. My 21 inch monitor that I picked up off the side of the road (literally) isn’t quite as cool as the one at work, so if I forget to switch, I’m kinda screwed.

Not crashing, not requiring a reboot, etc. are all things that need not be mentioned.

All of these supposedly are possible. But, using three different versions between when I first was allocated my Thinkpad T30 and now, have not worked in various fundamentally wrong ways.

So, let’s take the first version. Clearly nobody tested it. It would let you switch your configuration once and only once. Then you needed to reboot.

The next version? Well, it kinda worked. I could change parameters by hand to my heart’s content by clicking on the icon. You could hit Fn-F7 to pop up the menu of different monitor configurations, except that for some strange reason it insisted on popping up a dialog every time telling me that Fn-F7 did something special (nobody tested that, either, I guess). There was an option available to let me just force it to switch to one setting, but that didn’t work. Furthermore, the Fn-F7 menu only appeared on the MAIN monitor. Which means in the aforementioned case when I wanted to switch from “usual” desktop mode to “laptop” mode, I couldn’t see what I was doing. The switch-configurations-when-docked didn’t quite work. It gave me a blank black screen and would require some suspend/resuming and/or rebooting to finally get to something usable. I eventually developed a sequence of magical steps that would allow me to do this without needing to reboot.

So now we get to the latest version. I haven’t tested it particularly well, but I can already assure you that it’s now broken in new and interesting ways.

Windows XP lets you position your extra monitors in space, in a user interface that they carefully lifted off of Apple, who had it right many years prior. The best configuration for my desk is to have my laptop in the docking station, to the left of the CRT. In order to not give myself a spatial headache, this requires me to position it carefully in the monitor control panel so that my mouse goes into a roughly linear path.

The new software breaks this. In it’s mind, you have a monitor that is either to the right, to the left, or above the other monitor. So every time I switch settings, I have to realign things.

What’s going on here? I think I’ve got a pretty good idea. Somebody got a specification. They aren’t done until the specification is. So they go through the list, perhaps test, but probably not doogfood things. In the latest version, it appears that all of the major bullet points have been satisfied. Except that the way they were written has no basis in how people actually use the software.

This is why I am a believer in the more agile software development methodologies. The problems with the latest version would get through SEI/CMM with no problems. They are done, it looks like somebody may have tested them, etc. But there’s details behind “store the user’s screen position” that are generally the most evident only when you are actually trying to use it, I guess.

That’s my major gripe about the T30, that’s the one that effects me. My other concern is that there apparently is some sort of flaw in the motherboard design and one of these days, it’s going to suddenly be half the man it used to be, so to speak, and one of the memory slots won’t work anymore. Apparently there’s a number of people who have noticed this particular fun bug.

Update: The new version also has the exact same problems of the old version. I discovered out that the feature that changes what the scheme is when you dock the laptop has never worked, at least the way I’m trying to use it.

Second Update: Other things that are annoying about this laptop include:

  • There’s no windows key. Some of us actually use the windows key.
  • The trackpoint little-thingie-in-the-middle-of-the-keyboard gets on my nerves

Third Update: My T30 needs to be repaired. The afforementioned problem with the motherboard has rendered my machine annoyingly slow by causing my 512 meg system to go down to a mere 256 megs of RAM. And I was wondering why my machine was being incredibly slow lately.

Fourth Update: There will soon be a new chapter. The afforementioned Thinkpad T30 is being replaced by a new Thinkpad T41. Unfortunately, it sounds like it’s a retirement program for bugs.. You lose some, you gain some. Fun.

Fifth Update: The T41 I was allocated had hard drive failure. While I was out on a business trip. And, obviously because it was kept close to the T30, the T30 also decided to not work. This is clearly the beginning of a beautiful human / computer relationship