Dear Michael Dell and Bill Gates,

I've been using my new Dell Latitude CPi with Windows 98 for about a month now, and while I find it to be an astonishing collection of hardware in a frighteningly small box, it is nonetheless merely a collection. It seems to me that 7 years after I used my first laptop, things should have gotten even more integrated, not less so. Permit me to count the ways:

Ah, There's The Rub
To sleep perchance to dream? No, usually to crash. Don't get me wrong, I appreciated the message,
"Your computer has crashed the last 7 times you attempted to go to Suspend mode. Would you like to disable this feature? You can always reactivate using a method I'll tell you now, but you'll never remember."  Or words to that effect. "Cool, AI at last." I thought. At least if they can't figure out the problems, they can make them go away. However, this is akin to fixing the Space Shuttle by removing its rockets.

Waking Up Is Hard to Do
God, I mean Michael and Bill, it sure takes a long time to boot up my system using Windows 98. Maybe it's the memory check on the 128MB of RAM, maybe it's loading all that software that makes Office appear to launch faster once I am open, but over 2 minutes to boot a 300MHz processor? My 7 year old laptop still boots in under 2 minutes, and I thought that was slow. Since I suspended "suspend," the only way to conserve battery power is to shutdown and restart. To my surprise it's faster than booting from suspend mode. I can't imagine why?

Where Do I Want to Go Today?
Thanks for the handy feature of being able to set the hard disk spin-down and have the display shutoff for different occasions. But this isn't exactly the sort of hardware/software integration I expected after all these years. When I'm using my Latitude to make a presentation, I want the speaker volume to be up, and the screen saver to shutoff. Similarly, when I'm riding on the train I want the maximum power savings and the speaker to be off. When I'm at home, I also want my PC network card disabled (more about that in a minute). I know where I am, I wish my laptop did too. I'm even willing to tell it where it is. If only there were a way.

PCMCIA Not What I'd Hoped
Never mind that a poorly seated modem card caused my computer to crash for the first week until I figured it out and reseated it. What I really can't stand is that my modem card, and network card, forced to live within micrometers of each other, can't talk to each other. If I boot with my PC LAN card in place, but I run with a modem, I can't retrieve my email because it's hunting for a connection over the not present LAN. I have to disable the card in software, before I can get my email to read appropriately. Of course, I could set this up as a "Hardware Profile" by right-clicking on "My Computer" selecting "Preferences" and choosing the "Hardware Profile" tab..., but this profile is not connected to my battery profiles, and while I can manually disable a card without rebooting, new hardware profiles can only be invoked at reboot through a clunky text interface. If I can stop and start the PC card manually without reboot, why can't you do it automatically?

Read The Fine Print
Even if I can manually start and stop the network card, this doesn't seem to help with printing. I can receive email afterward, but not print to a networked printer. I always have to reboot. Why?

USB. Now There's An Answer
USB is a dream. Move the cable from my home PC to my laptop and bingo, I get the correct printing behavior every time. I haven't tried it yet, but instead of the PC Network card (sorry 3COM) I think I'm going to try a USB to Ethernet adapter.

In Conclusion
I really do use my laptop on my lap about 2 hours a day on the train. But when I get to work or when I get home the transition is not smooth. I know these problems can be solved. In fact, in a truly competitive marketplace Michael might have bought an OS better suited to the needs of a laptop. In a competitive marketplace, Bill, you might have been forced to make one. And as for me, I might have had a much better product, and a much better experience of technology.


Marc Auerbach

Cupertino, CA