On Laptoping

It's only comparatively recently that I've returned to the world of being a desktop computer user. I built my own computer when I was in high school, and it died after 3 years (or so), and I replaced that with an Mac laptop, which I updated a couple of times, but until this last fall, that was my window onto the Internet and my main academic/scholarly tool for a long time. This "laptop only" modality, is I think pretty common among a layer of contemporary computer users. Students, Internet-industry professionals (start-ups, programmers/hackers of a certain breed, etc.) are all prone to this kind of setup. And the truth is, that given today's technology, just about any laptop will pretty much whatever anyone needs from it. There are some limitations on the high end, but not many.

Indeed the reason that I moved to a desktop was the realization that I do about 60% of my computering in the study, at my desk. I also found myself needing a lot more screen space [1] than any laptop that I'd like to carry on my back could provide. It is also nice to be able to have a computer that's always on (downloading, file server stuff, etc.) and always connected to the Internet. Nevertheless, I still have a laptop and I find that I use it a lot. I tend to write in the morning in the living room, I reflexively (though I've gotten better at leaving it at home) take the laptop with me when I leave the house.

I used to think that having more than one machine was a bit of a hassle, and I suppose it is, but I'm sort of interested in thinking about how folks--particularly people who also have a desktop--use laptops. My laptop, despite being really half as powerful as the desktop, is configured the same way my desktop is, it has all of the same software, and nearly all of the same data. This seems like an ideal situation from a workflow perspective, but I can respect that there are other approaches.

I end up using the laptop as a "change of pace," and as a "more focused" situation when I need to hunker down and write more seriously.


I intended this post to be less about general workflow stuff and more about my experiences with replacing my Macbook with the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad X41t of which I've become quite enamored. Particularly, with respect to its "tablet," feature.

A few weeks ago I started to use the Macbook again incidentally, and my conclusion from this experience is that, while I have a lot of respect for OS X and the mac platform, it's not something that I want to use myself in any kind of day to day way. So I'm back using the thinkpad, and I'm tracking around for a second one (long story) so that I can sell the macbook without hurting the family's ecology [2] of computers. And it's a great thing. In a sort of minimalistic and technologically frugal sort of way, this machine does everything I need of a laptop, which is kind of cool

When I got the laptop, I was really excited about the prospect of having a tablet-formed machine. I could annotate PDFs effectively, I could read ebooks more comfortably in bed or on the couch. Turns out to not quite be the case.

Basically the implementation of the tablet part of the computer is perfect: the hinge is great, the texture of the screen is great, it just works--even on Linux. The problem? I don't have a hell of a lot of use for a computer without a keyboard. I like the experience of being able to turn it into a tablet to be able to concentrate a little bit better at the document at hand. That's useful. But the truth is I use it, maybe once a week if that.

Does anyone else have a tablet and if so, how much do you use it as such, or is there something really cool about tablets that I've totally missed?

Onward and Upward!

[1]I have something like 40 diagonal inches these days, on my main machine which is probably a bit of overkill. My issue on the Macbook screen was that I could have 30 windows open just fine (with Expose, which is really, a godsend) as long as I was working on a constrained number of projects. When I started having a bunch of "work things" on top of my usual cluster "tycho things," what had been pretty efficient became me spending forever finding the right text editor window. Magically the Awesome window manager that I use, manages to provide a lot more "conceptual" space for doing work, while also cutting down on distractions, without exactly tying conceptual space to physical space. Nifty stuff, really.
[2]When I got the thinkpad, I had intended to use it for a few weeks and then give it to my father, who'd been relegated to the oldest computer in the family computer ecology (an ibook). This was insurance against unanticipated systems failure (the last time a computer in died, there was... significant strife.) But, it turns out that the ibook has discovered a second life as the stereo system's Brain, and as I have the thinkpad... You can see where this is going.
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