10 things we hate about laptops

Sure, laptops have revolutionized the way we compute. That doesn't mean they don't drive IT bonkers.

They want their instant connection and they want it now, and when the IT call center can't give it to them, well, watch out.

"I get e-mails constantly from people saying they can't get online at a friend's house, so they can't pick their football draft in their football pool, so I'm getting in the way of their personal life and I need to fix this situation immediately," Applied Materials' Archibald says. "I get beat up by users every single day who want to be able to do whatever they want, and have us support it."

When support staffers aren't struggling to get remote users online for their own personal needs, they're fending off users who want -- nay, demand -- that their laptops boot up instantly and stay on no matter what, no boot-up passwords and no screen locks, thank you very much. "Users tell me regularly 'the damn screen lock is killing my productivity,'" Archibald says.

9. They're too big or too small.

Laptops are either too large -- which causes users to complain about lugging all that extra weight around -- or they're too small, which means no one can type on them. Finding a happy medium seems to elude many IT organizations.

Harvard Business School offers both standard and three-quarter-size laptops, but CIO Laster says his users are willing to trade weight for a larger screen and keyboard. "Most people just hate those three-quarter-size machines," he says.

At the KDOT, Swartzman says she hears a lot of complaints she really can't do much about. Her users hate the touch pads, but don't want to bring an external mouse along. A fully featured laptop with a usable keyboard is too heavy, users say. Or they like a laptop's weight, but then the screen's too small. In other words, laptops "just aren't ergonomically friendly, and they're never the right size," she says of her 600 to 700 deployed units. "It's frustrating."

And even when they are the right size, well, that size might be too big to actually handle safely. At DePaul, Kellen says the "big" laptops are back in vogue -- a lot of his users want the larger screens for media viewing -- but the bigger they are, the more likely they are to get dropped, he says. And unfortunately, that isn't an isolated event on his campus.

And then there's the matter of actually being able to do anything with the keyboard at hand. Among IT professionals, there are two universal laptop truths: not everyone has slender fingers, and most people can't actually type. Add those up and you get "fat hand syndrome."

"Many of my users hate the keyboard layout on 17-in. laptops or smaller," KDOT's Swartzman says. "They've got fat fingers."

UCSD's Lee agrees, and thinks it's worse for some people than others. "On behalf of my orthopedic surgeon colleagues, can I just ask for a larger keyboard? They have big fingers and can't type. Small keyboards are a nightmare for us."

10. Software performance just ain't the same.

Users want all the power, speed, connectivity and full-bodied applications of a desktop machine, all packed into a unit that's effortlessly portable with long battery life.

The reality, though? Big applications just don't work as well on a laptop. Sure, your standard-issue laptop can chomp along nicely on a complex inventory spreadsheet or a 275-slide PowerPoint presentation. The problem comes when users want to multitask between the two, say when creating a presentation. Even the fastest notebook processor and cache memory bog down under that demand, support managers say.

When that happens, IT folks have to listen to the complaints and try to come up with a workable solution. Add on top of that the negative effects of memory-hogging antivirus software, points out DePaul's Kellen, and you have yourself one significant drag on laptop software performance.

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Valerie Rice

Computerworld

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