One MacBook with a Thinkpad keyboard please (or OS X running on Windows, when hell freezes over)

One MacBook with a Thinkpad keyboard please (or OS X running on Windows, when hell freezes over)

Summary: Just because almost everybody is doing it, does that mean it's a good idea? Or does that mean that we've somehow been hoodwinked into thinking this makes sense.

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Just because almost everybody is doing it, does that mean it's a good idea? Or does that mean that we've somehow been hoodwinked into thinking this makes sense. I'm talking about touchpads. Somehow, users have been convinced that these kissin-cousins to the digitizing tablets that graphics artists use (where the technology benefits productivity) make sense as a pointing device near a notebook's keyboard. It's a rotten bill of goods. Touchpads make sense to manufacturers because there are fewer moving parts that can fail (digging into profits if the machine is under warranty). Unless you're one of the ten people in the world that's particularly adept at guiding a mouse around the screen with your thumbs (I've never seen anyone doing this), touchpads are a productivity killer.

This gets to the one reason I don't own a MacBook: none of the MacBook models come with pointing stick like the TrackPoints found on ThinkPads. Maybe I'm in the minority but, touchpads like the ones found on MacBooks simply can't compare from a productivity point of view to a keyboard with a pointing stick that sits near a touch typists index fingers. And, I can't imagine a multi-touch touchpad (the one that Apple looks to be bringing to its notebooks) closing the gap much. They might be an improvement over the current touchpad. But not over a pointing stick. Keyboard productivity is based on your ability to keep you fingers over the keyboard. The minute you have take your fingers away from the keyboard, you're already losing time.

Go ahead, take your swings at me for this. But every time I see someone using a touchpad, I watch them closely and the the way they move their fingers away from the keyboard is unmistakable. There's just no way you can convince me that touchpads are equally productive as pointing sticks. So, there's no way I'm going to buy a MacBook that doesn't have a pointing stick (continued below).

MacBook with Thinkpad keyboard

What would be the next best thing? Maybe someone can mashup a Thinkpad's keyboard with a MacBook (see image above). Or, how about the ability to run OS X on a Thinkpad? Either on the bare metal, or, as a virtual machine.

Recently, there's been a bit of Mac-related news coming out of the virtualization community. VMware for example just released Fusion, a virtual machine product that among other things lets you run Windows in a virtual machine that runs on a Mac. And then then folks at Parallels launched the public beta of the next version of its virtualization software that Fusion will compete head-to-head with. But neither company (nor any other virtualization solution provider) offers a way to run OS X on a virtual machine that's hosted by something other than an authentic Mac. I asked Parallels director of Corporate Communications Benjamin Rudolph what's up with that? In addition to claiming that Fusion can' t possibly hold up in a comparison to Parallels 3.0, here's what he said:

While is probably possible to virtualize OS X, Apple's EULA states that you can only run OS X on real, genuine Apple hardware...even virtual machiens running on Macs don't count. So, since we don't want our users to get sued and we don't want to compromise our great relationship with Apple, we don't enable this kind of functionality.

I guess I'll see OS X on a machine with a pointing stick when hell freezes over (and yes, I know.... I should just move to Linux instead).

Topics: Operating Systems, Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility, Virtualization, Windows

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57 comments
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  • I bet you that...

    I can navigate around any app faster with my touchpad then you can with your pointing stick. I was honestly surprised by this blog. Never before have I heard of someone that preferred a pointing stick to a touch pad. You also mentioned less moving parts like that's a bad thing. Less moving parts means thing less likely to break and therefore less hassle for the user. I was stoked when they came out with Solid State Disks (SSD) a while back because that did away with the last moving component necessary to run a standard computer. Besides that I'm also willing to be that the cost of integrating a touch pad is a lot more then the cost of integrating a pointing stick.
    mmadink
    • There's sticks, and then there's Trackpoints

      "Never before have I heard of someone that preferred a pointing stick to a touch pad."

      You should get out more - there are a great many of us devoted Trackpoint users out there. Note that I said "Trackpoint", not "pointing stick" - IBM's Trackpoint includes patented technology called "negative inertia" which removes the jitteriness and tendency to overshoot that's inherent in pointing sticks from lesser manufacturers that choose to save a buck by not licensing that technology. (*cough* Dell *cough*)

      If you've only ever tried a non-IBM pointing stick then I can understand your bias, but the only way you'll get us to relinquish our Trackpoints is to prise them from beneath our cold dead fingers.
      jetkins
      • Not that impressive to me

        When using my Thinkpad undocked, I preferred the touchpad over the Trackpoint. I'm sure it is the best pointing stick on any laptop computer, but I just prefer the input/response of the touchpad independent of responsivity settings, which I adjusted repeatedly because I had heard the same enthusiasm you express for your Trackpoint. I don't want you to "relinquish" your Trackpoint, but for my computer, presence or absence of a Trackpoint is just a question of an irrelevant red dot to type around.

        I suppose, like buying Honda, there's a resale value component to choice of laptop brand, but considering that computers have managed to lose value even more quickly than automobiles, that won't affect my next computer purchase at all.
        Absolutely
    • I had a similar reaction

      The criticism of touchpads was entirely on the basis of "productivity", but when the productivity argument tended to lead to the contrary verdict, the disadvantage of the tendency of moving parts to break was completely dismissed!
      Absolutely
  • Worst. Idea. Ever.

    A touchstick? Are you nuts? A device that simply screams out for you to overshoot every single target on the screen? Yeah, you may get an advantage in that the physical device is between your index fingers when you're typing, but you lose it immediately when you try to use it due to the constant corrections required as the pointer never quite goes where you want it to.

    And with a real trackpad (as opposed to the brain-damaged one that comes with Macs), you can tap for your selection, tap-and-drag, etc.
    Rrhain
    • I used to think those little red nobs were stupid...

      ...until I used a thinkpad for a couple of weeks and got used to it. After that, I actually missed it. Compared to the touchpad, the trackpoint caused a lot less stress on my hands and wrist after extended usage and after getting used to it, it was very easy to navigate with.
      toadlife
      • agreed

        I thought the same thing until I got my thinkpad. After about a week with the trackpoint I was converted. I much prefer it to the touchpad, it's easier to use. Nothing beats a real mouse but the trackpoint is a close second.
        CletusJones
    • Mac trackpads

      System preferences > Trackpad and Keyboard > Trackpad > Trackpad Gestures

      Making declarative statements showing off your ignorance is probably not a good way to go through life.
      frgough
    • Straw man

      "And with a real trackpad you can tap for your selection, tap-and-drag, etc." You can tap to select with genuine IBM Trackpoints, too.

      Next!
      jetkins
  • Based on a false assumption...

    ... that everyone who uses a computer is a touch typist.

    To quote:

    "pointing stick that sits near a touch typists index fingers"

    How does this help anyone who:
    A. Is not a touch typist.
    B. Is not a writer.
    C. Uses a pointing device for 90% of their work instead of the keyboard.
    aep528
    • in addition...

      While executing tasks which require typing, there are periods of thought, rest, distraction and so forth, ranging [in length] from fractions of s second to several minutes or more.

      I know few professionals [esp. writers] whose fingertips remain on their keyboards for the duration of a task, even if the task requires a substantial amount of typing.

      And I know fewer still who prefer input devices such as touchpads and pointing sticks over keyboard shortcuts. In fact, I would argue that desktop word processing applications such as MS Word and WordPerfect - taken in isolation - have had a greater negative impact on productivity than any input device. Such applications have forced typists to rely upon a touchpad/mouse/stick to access even some of the most basic functionality, where keyboard shortcuts would suffice.

      Also, one must draw a distinction between formatted and unformatted content. In environments where writers must also format their work, the impact [on productivity] would differ from those in which writers may submit plain text. Formatting itself is a lesson in productivity which is why newspaper and magazine writers often apply pre-defined, standardized stylenames which are later picked up [and applied] by the page layout applications.
      josephmartins
      • Not to mention the time lost by

        not having Expos? available if you won't use a MacBook.

        Your cure is considerably worse than the disease (it's not April 1st, is it?)
        MTMacPhee
        • clarification

          When you wrote "your cure is considerably worse" was your comment directed at the author of the blog? I assume so.
          josephmartins
      • Not forced, but strongly encouraged

        "Such applications have forced typists to rely upon a touchpad/mouse/stick to access even some of the most basic functionality, where keyboard shortcuts would suffice."

        For those who prefer to keep our hands on the keyboard for the duration of any task in a word processing program, most of the functions of the formatting icons are available from the menus, which in turn are all accessible (in Microsoft Word) with the Alt Key plus some other letter from the name of the menu. For example, Alt+E for the Edit menu. Arrow keys, Tab, and more Alt key combinations can, AFAIK, provide access to all functionality Word offers.
        Absolutely
        • While this is true

          MS Word still does not mathe the task particularly easy. To access some commands in that way, it requires a good deal of keypresses (using arrow keys to navigate a menu, particularly). In favour of this, I now use LaTeX (through the LyX interface) for document processing, where (practically) everything has a unique, short, simple shortcut. On the other hand, maybe I never learned enough MS Word, using OpenOffice.org more, and recently switching to LyX. But even in OOo I had to frequently use the mouse. Annoying. The reason I also use the Emacs text editor -- Mouse, whats that?

          Never mind the fact that the actual formatting headaches that we all know and love from any word processor (be it OpenOffice Writer, MS Word, etc) disappear with LaTeX, but that is irrelevant to this discussion.
          Azriphale
  • I am a touch typist and I despise clit mice

    The usability of clip mice is nearly zero in my opinion, they are slipery, get in the way
    of typing and generally difficult to use if you have to hold key on the keyboard down
    while dragging for example.

    The different usage modes available with touch pads, such as two-finger clicking or
    dragging, are far more interesting and user friendly in my opinion.
    Someguy2
  • I disagree

    Nothing annoys a touch typist like me than the need to move one's well-positioned fingers away from the keyboard to move the cursor.

    However, both the mini-joystick (the one between G and H key) and stroll stick (the one depicted) is in my opinion, worse than touch pad.

    I use both of my thumb to move cursor around when I am touch typing. The advantage touchpad have with respect to stroll stick is a larger surface to target (i.e., I need not look down to find where the stroll stick is) Touch pad also offer better control than mini-joystick. The ability to click by tapping on the touch pad surface is the clincher. However big the left and right mouse button are, they still require rather precise targeting to hit it.

    Granted. Touch pad is not for everything. If you need precision in positioning, such as in graphic application, it is very much inferior to a mouse. But while stroll stick and mini joystick works better, they are no substitute to mouse.

    Therefore, in my opinion, mini-joystick and stroll sticks are intermediate solutions between touchpad and mouse and because of that, they are good for nothing for me.
    sinleeh@...
  • First point: There are no..

    moving pieces in IBMs Trackpoint. There's a strain gauge that measures where the
    pressure you put on it. While others have them (licensed, I assume from IBM),
    none have as good a feel as the IBMs do.

    That said, while I loved them on my IBM laptops, they are harder to control with
    any accuracy. I may not have had to move my fingers from the home row, but I
    spent a lot of time getting the cursor where I really wanted it.

    Apple's implementation of the touchpad has one feature I've not seen anywhere
    else: Scrolling by using two fingers. I miss this on my Dell. Not having to move
    the cursor to scroll is a HUGE time saver.
    msalzberg
    • Scrolling touchpads are very common - not unique to Apple

      It's not just Apple. I have on on my Gateway, both of my parents have one on their laptops, my cousin has one on her Dell...the scrolling portion of the touchpad is on nearly every laptop. Not all of them are marked, but all touchpads have the feature.

      On your Dell, move your finger to the far right of the touchpad, start at the top, and slide your finger to the bottom. It'll scroll, unless the computer is old, broken, or not configured properly. You may have to adjust the settings on the touchpad...
      laura.b
      • yep everybody has them

        I think they're just about everywhere now. My gateway and hp have marked ones and my toshiba has it too, it's just not marked.
        Johnny Vegas