Toshiba settlement is blood in the water

If you want to get an assessment about the value of data, check out the bombshell news of Toshiba settling a class-action suit on faulty diskette drives. The settlement points to something I never expected to see happen: a bug yielding a cash payout to a user.

If you want to get an assessment about the value of data, check out the bombshell news of Toshiba settling a class-action suit on faulty diskette drives.

The settlement points to something I never expected to see happen: a bug yielding a cash payout to a user. Since settling out of court means this isn't a legal victory for the plaintiffs, the validity of the no-fault clause in licensing agreements hasn't been challenged. Nevertheless, this outcome says one thing: The cost of defending -- and the likelihood of losing -- a lawsuit about a bug causing expensive data loss is now a real consideration for vendors.

This type of capitulation is blood in the water. Expect companies to roll over and settle for a time until the stakes get too big. Then someone will defend and lose. What are the implications of a loss? I expect that Toshiba was really liable for about 100 times what they are paying out in terms of lost wages spent replacing destroyed data.

On the subject of portable computers, a recent review I wrote of a couple of notebooks netted a disproportionate number of responses from readers about, of all things, the so-called Windows-specific keys on notebook keyboards.

Get real, man

Now, I admit this sounds crazy but I think these responses came from some misplaced inclusion-oriented thinking,, much like being politically correct. To some people, Windows keys aren't inclusive. Perhaps they're even a symbol of how Microsoft is keeping the computer down, man.

Wrote one reader: "I run Windows on both a PC and a Mac. I do not have Windows-specific keys on either keyboard and do not miss them. I prefer mapping keys to my choice of location and label. Second, since I want to be able to run Linux on my Intel and PowerPC machines in the future, I see these keys as a long-term liability."

You can't miss what you don't have. I don't claim to be a Linux expert, but I do know that on one of the Linux systems I use in our lab I've been able to map the Windows keys through the Enlightenment Configuration Manager in the Control Center. You can also map the keys in OS/2 Warp. Far from an operating system liability, they provide an opportunity for enhancing the user experience.

Don't forget, the Mac has some special keys not found on the standard PC keyboard. Talk about being proprietary and brand-focused to keep the computer down, man. Apple started the whole thing.

I make no apologies, I like those keys. I'm no Microsoft lackey, I just think that the pointing devices in most notebooks are so inept that the keys present a convenient alternative to fumbling, bumbling and stumbling with Track Points, track balls and touch pads. In fact, the reality is that these keys really aren't Windows-specific at all. Many operating systems can use them.

The other comments generally ran along the lines of: Adding these keys means that other keys, such as the Control, Alt or Delete keys, are smaller or inconveniently located.

Want to complain about keys taking up too much room -- how about the Function key? I use it infrequently, and it really takes up a disproportionate amount of real estate. That key is the real guilty party when it comes to cutting into the space of the Control and Alt keys. I think people should be picking on that one. My suggestion would be to put it way off at the top of the notebook, as a third-width key between Esc and F1. But then doing so would probably annoy any accountant using the embedded keypad.

What bugs you about the notebook you're using? Let me know at michael_caton@zd.com. Off the Cuff, an

online exclusive column, appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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