Category Archives: Computers

Storage – Simple is Good

Over the past few years I’ve heard a lot of good about Synology. As a networking geek, being attracted to something like a Sinology makes some sense. What has held me back from these devices is one simple fact – I don’t use that much storage. The large majority of the space I use is for photos and music at 104GB and 30GB respectively. All this is stored either locally on my Mac or an external hard drive connected over USB. iTunes Match allows me to reduce the 30GB significantly if I want and the external hard drive is only 15% used. I repeat I don’t need much storage space.

My wife is similar. She keeps everything on her computer. 250GB or so of space later and she has all her photos, music, and documents. Between the both of us we use less than 500GB.

As an exercise, I was curious whether it made sense to purchase a Synology NAS for us to store our data compared to various methods of DAS. I was able to find some USB 3.0 external hard drives providing 4TB for about $130. One per person makes it $260 for plenty of storage each.

Choosing a Synology isn’t as easy. While I love the idea of a rack mountable NAS, I decided a regular form factor is better and more flexible for the future. A 1-bay NAS doesn’t make much sense and a 2-bay NAS is only slightly better. 4-bay seemed like a sweet spot so the DS414 or DS414j looks to be a good option. The DS414j is decently less expensive, but lacks hot swapping so I opted for the DS414. This is $470 right off the bat.

2TB hard drives feel a bit small today for something which is supposed to store a ton of data. 3 or 4TB drives seem to be a better happy medium between price and size today. I priced 4x 4TB drives for $656 or 4x 3TB drives for $458.

Considering price alone, $260 v. $1,000+ should be a pretty simple answer. Both options provide the same amount of storage. Price isn’t the only consideration though.

Versatility. Each brings their own benefits. A USB drive can go wherever you go. After that, I consider NAS to be more versatile. It can serve data over multiple protocols and be accessed by many computers simultaneously.

Simplicity and Ease of Use. This one goes to the USB drive. Plug it in and go. NAS requires configuration on both the server and client.

Performance. This one is probably tough since I haven’t done much testing of USB 3.0 However, some reports online show USB 2.0 is faster than Gigabit Ethernet, leave alone 802.11n which maxes out at about 150Mbps in many situations. USB 3.0 is going to make this one a much easier question as I’m sure USB 3.0 is faster than Gigabit Ethernet or even 802.11ac under either wave 1 or wave 2.

Backup. This is one where NAS wins. Amazon Glacier allows for archival storage for $0.01 per GB per month. 8TB of data would be $40/month. Backblaze is unlimited data for $5 per month but they also require the drive to be accessed once every 3 weeks or the data is deleted.

Reliability. NAS will probably win this one as well. A USB drive is a single point of failure and not an overly reliable one at that. The NAS would probably be running RAID. The only way the NAS would be less reliable is if the server itself dies and then it’s actually worse.

I love the idea of a new toy. What geek doesn’t? But when I weigh these options, the USB drive’s price and simplicity give it a hard to beat combination. The biggest push towards a NAS would be if we had kids who needed to store data. Then 4 USB drives becomes $480 and it’s a much easier sell. I’ll continue to weigh whether I should get a NAS but the initial numbers make it hard to justify.

Apple’s Yosemite Font Change

Last week Apple released Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite. While there’s plenty of iOS integration work, the most immediately obvious change is the appearance. New theme, new transparency, and new font. Yes, the font changed which typically isn’t a huge source of contention. This time around, the font isn’t quite as readable on non-Retina displays but looks great on Retina. My MacBook Pro is a late-2011 model so it doesn’t have Retina. Yes, it’s slightly fuzzier and less readable than fonts on Mavericks.

Some people on the Internet have been speculating this is Apple planning for the future when Retina is on all devices. They talk about how Apple is happy to design for the future like when they removed floppy drives, optical drives, iOS 7 thin fonts and lines, etc. Apple does tend to be ambitious when it comes to obsoleting hardware for the sake of functionality. In this instance though, I disagree.

In this case, I think they were trying to go for a fresh look which is closer to iOS. It has nothing to do with preparing for the future. They changed a font – they didn’t change the hardware or the icons. A simple preference could change it back so the concept of “designing for the future” seems off to me. Also, very few Apple computers on the market are Retina compatible. MacBook Pros and iMac are it. Apple’s flagship computer, the Mac Pro, won’t easily do Retina since Apple doesn’t have a Retina external monitor. The very popular MacBook Air doesn’t support Retina either. What percentage of Apple devices sold last year are Retina compatible? 40%? That’s a low number considering the adoption rate of Retina is going to be slow since it requires a costly hardware upgrade. I estimate it will be another 5 years until Retina is on a strong majority of Apple computers in use.

Helvetica’s use on the non-Retina display isn’t so bad for me. But I disagree with the idea they’re designing for the future. I think they’re designing for aesthetics with little care to older devices. If this were a major change to the OS, I would agree. It isn’t. It’s a font choice.

Corporate Applications vs. Browser Rapid Release Cycles

I write this post not as a web developer but instead as a user of corporate applications. The latest and greatest web applications are important and I fully encourage their adoption. Rapid browser releases have accelerated the use of these and for that I am grateful. It does have the side effect of causing heart ache with users of systems which cannot be upgraded as frequently (read: most of them).

The days of “Best viewed in Netscape” are still in my memory but probably not in the memory of young developers, maybe even in their mid-20s. Depending on your browser of choice, a web page may or may not work. Perhaps it would mostly work. Or if you were lucky, it would work perfectly in both IE and Netscape. Web development has improved and for most functions all web browsers will work. Thank you to all responsible parties for the evolution. Unfortunately, I have concerns around web applications which cannot be upgraded as frequently as many web applications can. Corporate web applications.

Yes. Corporate web applications mostly suck. But for millions of people in the world, they're a fact of life. In a day, I may run product configurations in one web application, submit PTO in another, and submit documents for review in a third. These may be bad examples since the latter two very much seem to require IE. But lets say they didn't. Lets also say I had to configure corporate infrastructure components. The examples given are just two random ones, but both are configured largely through a web interface. Both are potentially mission critical to your company and are treated with care. Changes are completed during specific “change windows” or risk reprimand. Mission critical infrastructure components are deliberately not bleeding edge as that lends to a stable environment. Whatever browser support a vendor releases a version with is what may be in place for years.

This mentality flies in the face of the rapid development world of the web. New feature? Push. Tweak to CSS? Push. Okay, maybe not as aggressive as I imply but it sure moves faster than corporate applications and infrastructure which are upgraded every two years. The result is a server or appliance running code which is a year old supporting, say, Firefox 21 and 22 and Internet Explorer 9, 10, and 11. Firefox releases a new major version approximately every six weeks. IE is slower but is releasing browsers at a more rapid pace than before. As I write this, Firefox 28 is running on my computer.

I've focused on just one or two applications. But what if you run an ERP system which is compatible with IE 8? A database administration front end compatible with IE 9 or 10. Appliance front ends compatible with Firefox 21 and 22. Firefox and Chrome auto-update (can be disabled) but then you're left with security vulnerabilities. A rat's nest of browser dependencies quickly appears and the user is stuck navigating it.

Admittedly, most applications do work with future versions. Moving to Firefox 28 when something is compatible with 27 typically doesn't break it. But I have certainly seen compatibility problems with a gap of more than a handful of versions. But a corporation requiring a stable environment cannot be upgrading code every time a new browser is released every three or six weeks. Furthermore, vendors aren't releasing updates when browsers are updated so there is nothing to even upgrade to.

Browser compatibility due to rapid release cycles is hardly the largest problem web developers and corporate IT has to deal with. However, it is a challenge of some size and one which is exacerbated by multiple browsers with frequent releases. I don't really have a solution but I think the answer lies in the middle. On one hand, a release every six weeks feels a bit much to me and generally unnecessary (my opinion). On the other hand, corporate IT is often overly stagnant and rigid (example: resistance to BYOD). Finally, the vendors would need an upgradable front-end patch method which upgrades only the web code and leaves the middle and back end application layers alone.

Web development and compatibility has improved greatly over the past decade. I fear the possibility of icons on corporate applications saying “Best viewed in Firefox 28, 29, and 30 and IE 10”.

Todo List Review

Remember the Milk has been my todo list service for 7 or 8 years. It defined what a todo list application needed to be with the minimum features being:

  • Check and uncheck tasks
  • Tags
  • Recurrence
  • Smart searches are very preferred
  • Quick entry
  • Priority

RTM does all these. That’s not to say each of these features are the optimum for my use but my workflow has developed around these features. A few features I would like:

  • Location based reminders (more on reminder accuracy in another post)
  • Task dependency
  • x-callback-url support

The former should be relatively self-explanatory. A reminder when I have an item due which is specific to a location. The latter is a little more nuanced. Maybe I created a task called “Paint bathroom” but I need paint and other typical supplies. I could create a task which says “Buy paint and paint supplies” which is a dependency for the paint bathroom task. The secondary task only shows up when the primary task is completed. Even better, a task which has multiple parent tasks it depends on.

Anyways, Remember the Milk has been a very trusty friend. It reminds me to clean the house, pay bills, do tasks at work, and even call people on their birthday or other significant anniversaries (positive or otherwise). According to RTM, I have completed 4,019 tasks which averages to a little more than 500 a year or 10 a week. RTM does a fantastic job of keeping me organized but it’s getting a little long in the tooth. Here are the new features added in 2013:

  • Stripe support for Pro Accounts
  • Redesigned app for Android
  • Blackberry 10 support
  • Integration with Evernote reminders
  • Note linking with Evernote

Not a bad year but nothing which interests me. Other applications are coming out or improving. Because of this, I’m suffering from a bit of “Grass is greener” syndrome. Time to evaluate some options.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist is a popular application and placed 2nd with Lifehacker’s 2012 “Five Best To-Do List Managers” article only surpassed by the now purchased by Yahoo, Astrid.

The web interface is relatively attractive. While everything is going to the “flat” look, Wunderlist continues to have wood grain backgrounds. Take that Jony Ive.

Second impression is the lack of quick task entry. “Take pill repeating every night at 9:30” is what I entered and that was the task. None of it was parsed for context. Looks like I’ve been spoiled by Fantastical.

However, Wunderlist has a lot of nice features associated with an individual task. Due dates and reminders are distinct values. The former seems to be when it is active while the latter is when you should be nagged. Subtasks are also supported, although not in the format I envisioned. Subtasks are less of a dependency and more of a way to categorize “projects”. I created a “Take pill” task with a sub task of “Brush teeth”. When I click “Take pill” it completes both the parent and subtask. Not how I would like to see it executed, but would come in handy plenty of times. Notes and file attachments are supported. File attachments aren’t a huge requirement but notes are important to me. Often I’ll have a “Schedule plumber” type task with the plumber’s phone number as the note.

The recurrence feature is there but not overly powerful. I don’t always need the “Repeat every x” pattern. Instead, I prefer to use “Repeat every other Monday” (aka. 14 days) or “Repeat first and third Friday of the month”. Periodically I’ll need to do a recurring task regardless if the task has been completed. To me, the term “repeat” means to create the task x days after completion date.

Wunderlist’s iPhone interface closely matches the web interface with navigation modified for touch interfaces. Web uses a three pane view: List View, Tasks, Task Details. On the web all three can be available at once. iPhone allows swipe gestures between the three panes. Familiarity with one interface will migrate to the other interface.

Smart lists also seem absent. While I don’t often use smart lists for tasks which couldn’t be done with built-in lists, I like the optional flexibility. Tags and location based notifications don’t make an appearance with Wunderlist, at least as far as I can tell.

Wunderlist comes with some good features but falls short everywhere else. It’s a todo list application I’ll keep an eye on but don’t expect it to take the place of RTM anytime soon.

Pros:
* Visually crisp interface
* Free for many features
* Subtasks, notes, and attachments
* Separate values for due dates and reminders
* Seems nice for group tasks. Note, I didn’t test this feature. $50/yr.

Cons:
* Input methods lack natural language processing
* Rigid recurrence rules
* Apparently lacks location based notification
* No tags

Todoist

Todoist’s web site seemed pretty creative until I saw the Any.do front page. Which came first? It doesn’t matter.

I heard about Todoist a few weeks ago when they redesigned their application and fee structure. Their web interface is quite clean and many of my requirements are supported. While Wunderlist uses wood grain backgrounds, Todoist subscribes to the “flat” look. All sans-serif fonts with stark colors if not shades of grey. A bit dull in my book, but it’s what the kids are doing nowadays.

Like any of the applications evaluated, there are keyboard shortcuts. ‘a’ or ‘A’ should add tasks but doesn’t seem to be working for me under Firefox. No big deal. ‘q’ brings up a “quick entry” dialog which allows for easy navigation using the keyboard. Labels can be assigned which is something I need and use every time I create a task in RTM.

While we’re talking about shortcuts, there don’t seem to be any keyboard shortcuts for mouselessly (I created this word) manipulating my task list.

Todoist uses gamification to assist in accomplishing tasks. Creating and completing tasks gives points which correlate to ranks. I’m currently a “Beginner” with 1408 points. I use Todoist only for a few tasks so it’s not hard to climb the rank ladder apparently. Overdue tasks hurt your s core. I hit “Intermediate” at 2500 points. Here we come!

Recurrence is good but not great. My reminder for taking out recycling and garbage should happen every Monday. “every Monday” isn’t syntax Todoist understands. Instead, I had to use “every 7 days starting Monday” to accomplish the same task. Less intuitive. Damn you Fantastical for your superior natural language input.

Todoist’s iPhone app is pretty good. Similar to Wunderlist, the UI matches the web site. A handy feature is the ability to do drag and drop date assignments. Say I have a task for “Clean living room” due on Wednesday. Perhaps I’m out of town on Wednesday but want to do it Tuesday so I arrive to a cleaner house. A simple drag and drop to Tuesday changes the due date. Quite slick. I’m skeptical how this feature works with recurrence though.

Filters is their version of a smart list but only available in Todoist Premium.

Todoist Premium is available for $29 a year and provides:

  • Ability to use all clients
  • Reminders
  • Notes and files attachments
  • Improved labeling
  • Custom filters
  • Unlimited and automatic sync
  • Automatic backup
  • Task search
  • iCal integration

I haven’t purchased Premium so I can’t test all the functions but it does offer quite a bit for the money.

Todoist also has native clients. Really, they’re front-ends for the web interface but support quick entry from any application with a simple keyboard shortcut. Certainly a nice to have.

Todoist seems to be my main competitor to RTM. The interface feels a bit sparse at times but no big deal there. The power seems to be there. Oddly enough, my biggest concern with Todoist is longevity. RTM has been around for a very long time and despite some stagnation, doesn’t appear to be going anywhere (knock on wood). Todoist stands a little bit above many todo applications on features; I just become concerned it will be purchased by Google (a company I’m moving away from where possible).

Pros:
* Filters (aka. smart lists)
* Decent recurrence language

Cons:
* Impossible for me to use all my features in the free version. $30/yr for the full, which I would have no problem paying
* Input methods lack natural language processing
* Only decent recurrence rules
* Lacks location based notification

Remember the Milk

For my purposes, this is the one to beat. I’ve been using RTM since 2007 or 2008 and it has served me very well. RTM is one of those tools which isn’t all that complex at first but can be manipulated to be very powerful. Check out the Tips & Tricks Tuesdays on the blog for an idea of what people use RTM for.

RTM offers tags, lists, location settings, task sharing (which I don’t use), time estimates, and smart lists. It also has text input which isn’t quite natural language input, it does allow for fast input. For example Develop voice SOW tomorrow !2 #work #sow =30m will create a new task with a due date of tomorrow, added to my work list, with the tag of SOW, medium priority, and an estimated 30 minutes assigned.

Keyboard shortcuts are widely available if that’s your fancy too. Sometimes the web browsers are a little quirky but it works well enough I try to avoid the mouse when navigating the web interface.

RTM is $25 a year for their pro account. Pro enables beta features and unlimited syncing for mobile applications. Without pro enabled, only one sync is allowed per day.

Pros:
* The todo service I developed my workflow around, so it does much of what I need.
* Probably not a target for a Google buy-and-kill (no, I’m not at all bitter)

Cons:
* Seemingly a lack of frequent development.
* No live location services.
* No x-callback-url support.
* No subtasks or task dependencies.

Conclusion

For now I will stick with RTM, especially because I am only 3 months into my annual subscription. Todoist will be one I keep an eye on when it comes time for renewal.

iOS 8 Wishlist

Note: This list may be updated.

Less Crashing

iOS 7 is mighty unstable both itself and applications. Newsblur crashes almost daily for me and the OS crashes once or twice a week. I’m expecting much of this to be fixed prior to iOS 8. In case Apple doesn’t consider this a widespread problem, iOS 8 needs to be much more stable.

Update: iOS 7.1 appears to be much better in this regard. We’re not a week in yet but this was a focus of Apple’s and seems to be better.

Custom Map Directions

iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks allows sending directions from a computer to a phone. Relatively obvious feature and it works as advertised. Adding the capability to do custom maps on the computer and having the custom map on the phone would be very appealing.

More Keyboard Shortcuts

Apple increased the number of shortcuts available with iOS 7 but they’re still falling short of where it needs to be. Applications are probably going to be adding support for keyboard shortcuts in the near future. Apple needs to step up their game even more though.

Better Animations

A lot of people love the current animations but they wear on me. They feel slow and unnecessary. I disabled them and have been glad they’re gone but do miss having the defaults setup.

Better Siri Integration

iOS 7 “improved” Siri. Supposedly the voice got better although I’m not sure it’s better. That’s another section. I’m looking for integration. Control the Podcasts app with Siri. Allow third-party applications to tie into Siri. That is the killer feature of Siri for people who drive (aka. screw the city folk).

Better Siri Voice

iOS 6 had a Siri voice which was robotic but relatively clear. The new voice is less robotic but makes sounds with humans do not make and that includes the Swedes. Its pauses for commas are awkward as well. “Okay, Paused, Kevin” has spaces more like periods, not like commas. Overall the voice is a step back, not forward.

Crowd Sourced Maps

Waze did a great job with crowd sourcing events on the road such as construction, speed traps, and objects on the road. They took it a step further and allowed collaborative map modifications. Apple’s accuracy problems would disappear in a matter of months if they allowed collaborative map editing. Crowd-sourced events would be nice too. Apple isn’t a social company and this will never happen.

Less U-Turns in Apple Maps

Apple Maps loves u-turns. Stop that. They can update this prior to iOS 8. Just fix this.

Multi-User Support

Not interesting for the phone but could be great for an iPad. Apple’s iPad nomenclature points to an iPad Pro. Multi-user on an iPad could be exciting for families who don’t need a full laptop anymore.

More Intuitive Photo Burst Mode

Using burst mode for photos on iPhone 5s is easy but choosing the desired photo and deleting the others is confusing. I have only used burst mode a couple times but I still fumble around every time.

Unlimited Photo Stream Use

Everpix went out of business. Modify Photo Stream to support all my photos and videos for life. Yes there are scale issues but it would make people’s family photos reliably available even with new devices. Apple could advertise this feature and I expect it to resonate with a lot of people, even if they don’t know it. Oh, and don’t compress the photos.

Better Appearance

I know a lot of people who think iOS 7 looks great. I’m not one of them. I have almost no ideas on how to improve it, but just improve it. Just because Johnny Ive knows how to make great hardware doesn’t mean he has a clue about software. I said this a while and feel like I have been proved right. I’m considering not moving my iPad to iOS 7 for performance and appearance reasons. While I’ve grown used to iOS 7 I am generally happier on iOS 6. iOS 7.1 may make some small improvements but time will tell

Inter-App Communication

x-callback-url exists and is being used well by numerous applications. A fully featured inter-app communication system could significantly change how people use applications. Text can be reliably moved from application to application using native methods. Safari would even play with this as x-callback-url isn’t supported by Apple whatsoever as far as I know.

Improved Touch Targets for Scroll Wheel

Previous versions of iOS used the slot machine style wheel. iOS 7 refreshed the look of the wheel. Not only was the look overhauled but the touch targets were also modified. An article is on the Internet about why it is more challening to use than the old one. Fix this.

Better Fonts

I know Apple loves their new font selection but it’s not a great font. It’s not very easy to read and it’s often too thin. I can’t articulate what I don’t like about it, but I don’t.

Context Sensitive “Grammar”

Full context sensitive auto-correction is hard and processor intensive. Instead, why not just use context sensitive punctuation. If I open a sentence with “Can” a double tap of the space bar should render a ? instead of a ..

Slide to Delete Behavior

A lot of apps have swipe to delete. A recent behavior, iOS 7 related possibly, is they require a very long swipe to keep the delete button visible. If you let go too quickly it will go to another screen. Tis ambiguity and precision required for swiping is very frustrating. Only makes me hate gestures more than I do.

More Informative Lock Screen…On Calls

I don’t want my lock screen constantly showing statuses I don’t care about. However, it’s not uncommon I need to access the phone controls while it’s locked and I’m using the phone. Mute, “press 1 to join the conference”, and similar functions all require access to the basic phone controls. iOS 8 would do me a favor if it gave me basic controls without having to unlock the phone.

Week of the iPad

Introduction

The iPad has changed how people work. Despite its influences I still have a hard time picturing its use every day. I am going to do a one week experiment to see where it thrives and where it doesn’t for a full time machine. It will be used full time for personal work. Any work for my job will be done on my work laptop and is not included in this experiment. I am able to use my iPhone alongside my iPad for daily work.

Prediction

I think it will do most common tasks very well. Internet browsing and email shouldn’t be a challenge. I do think there will be a few areas which make a laptop required for the near future.
* Sys Admin Work – Serial and SSH abilities are on the iPad but at this time I don’t have those applications.
* IM – Due to lack of full multi tasking on iOS I think IM is going to be very hard to use. iMessages is about the closest to good IM I think I will find.

Monday September 2, 2013

Today is Labor Day so I had a day off. Much of it was spent cooking and cleaning so I was away from my computer quite a bit. My initial prediction of IM being challenging was correct but I didn’t think of one thing: iMessages. iMessages obviously works quite well on iOS devices. If someone is an iMessages user IM is great. For the majority of people who don’t own a Mac or have iMessages, IM still isn’t great.

Tuesday September 3, 2013

Plex is my media server of choice and requires port forwarding to work behind NAT. My router has no port forwarding on at the moment which would require some CLI work. As I suspected, administration on iPad is going to be really rough. It’s a shame. With such a nice screen split console in horizontal mode would be very welcome. Crisp console text? Geeky, but could be very nice.
Quick discovery. When using a Bluetooth keyboard there isn’t a keystroke to send an iMessage. I need to lift my hand and press the screen. iOS with an external leaves so much to be desired.
By default the fonts are a little small in some apps. In particular, I found NewsBlur to be a little small to read at a computer length distance. Editorial default font seems to be just fine though so I blame this on an app preference more than iOS. Feedback submitted via Twitter.

Wednesday September 4, 2013

When I got home I used my computer. I wanted to IM and check a few things quickly. The iPad, despite all its greatness, isn’t very good at multi-tasking. Want to send IMs while checking email and Twitter? iPad isn’t going to do that.
Smooth keyboard integration seems to be my biggest hang up besides IM. There is no alt-tab. It’s basically used for the keys and no interaction with the system.
My next experiment, I may use my iPad at work for taking notes with customers. I see no reason it wouldn’t do it and do it very well. I use Markdown for note taking making the iPad an optimal device. Sharing will be the hardest as I don’t keep notes in Dropbox.

Thursday and Friday, September 5 and 6

I wasn’t home much these days so I didn’t have much interaction. Of course I had my iPhone on me so I was using that. Long term it probably makes sense that Apple has a mobile OS on its tablets similar to the phone. Microsoft may make some sense having a hybrid model today but long term that’s going to be a hard transition, especially for a company which has such a hard time breaking backward compatibility.

Summary

Overall I liked using iOS on a full time basis. It does have some very real shortcomings.
While pretty good the default keyboard isn’t good enough for full time use. Using an external keyboard helps but only for typing. App switching, commands, or form submission don’t work with the external keyboard. Besides Apple doing a lot of things which don’t make sense, I can’t tell what keeps them from improving at least some of this function. I wonder if iOS 7 will support this but I would be a little surprised.
Instant messaging is a little tough if the person isn’t using iMessages. There are some mediocre rated apps on the App Store but they all require registration. I looked into libpurple on iOS and they have some license problems. A client server model with the server acting as a libpurple based proxy would work but that does require some registration. A self hosted system may be nice.
System administration isn’t great. There are SSH clients and even a console application (hardware purchase required) so I should be able to do better administration. During the week I didn’t use any web based administration tools and I expect those to be hit and missed. I doubt they are optimized for touch screen and many of them probably use Flash.
Finances are done just fine on iOS with the weak link being Mint’s pretty good but not very efficient app. Paying bills, checking balances, and stocks all work just fine.
iOS is a few applications and tweaks away from replacing my Mac OS X system as anything more than periodic use. The gaps are pretty major but I do think it wouldn’t take too much to bridge them.

Innovative Keyboards

Some digital ink has been spilled recently regarding the unique keyboard layout the Lenovo X1 Carbon has. If you haven’t seen it…

Take a moment and see how they moved away from the standard layout us touch typists know so well. To start, I’m not enamored by the backspace and delete keys being so close together. Perhaps using it will not be much of a challenge but I prefer a separate key or perhaps a modifier (as in the case of Apple) to use the delete action. My next complaint is Home and End where the caps key is. Yes, caps lock is terrible, albeit slightly useful at times. As a lightweight emacs user, I’m a fan of swapping the caps lock and control keys (note: I don’t actually do that today). Short of migrating both home and end to control, emacs users would be stuck on this laptop. A light at the top right of the left shift key implies caps lock functionality exists but it is not immediately obvious how.

Tilde key makes its home to the right of the space bar. Not that I use that key a lot, especially on Windows, but the location is odd. The layout implies it was placed at the bottom right to prevent the need for another row of keys. Which brings me to the function keys.

Watch the video first.

Interesting idea but I want keys on my keyboard. If I wanted a touch screen, I’d use a tablet. Better would be actual keys which change their function. As a non-Windows user, I’m also wondering how that works in Linux. Not for a minute do I believe Lenovo cares about Linux users but it’s a concern I have, especially if I am going to lay down over $1,000 for the laptop.

I give Lenovo credit for trying something new, especially with the function row but it’s not something I think I’d enjoy. If I alt+f4 a window, I want to be sure I’m hitting the proper key. The layout of the home, end, and tilde key leave much to be desired. The caps lock key’s biggest downfall is not its existence but its prime real estate on the keyboard. I doubt home and end are used frequent enough where they merit such privileged placement. Control on the other hand…

My work laptop is a 15″ Lenovo which in general is nice despite its heft and a few other things. Periodically I think about requesting an X1 Carbon since it seems like such a nice system. Unfortunately this new keyboard design makes me think I’m going to wait a generation until the keyboard comes back to earth.