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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

March 19, 2007 at 1:01 PM

More on the troubles with TouchSmart

I didn’t have enough room in today’s column on Hewlett-Packard’s TouchSmart to list all the bad and good things about the system. Here are a few more.

The TouchSmart comes with an elegant “home console” application, a cousin to Cozi‘s application/service. (Cozi co-founder Robbie Cape worked with HP on the TouchSmart).

But it also comes preloaded with a lot of other junk that diminishes the experience of turning on your new Vista PC. This isn’t unique to TouchSmart or HP — every PC maker sells more billboards on their desktop real estate than a two-bit Highway 99 strip mall — but they’ve got to let it go if they want their machines to be used and loved like consumer electronics products.

Brier Dudley

So much for the clean look of Vista. Here’s how the browser appears the first time you open it on HP’s TouchSmart. Look at all the Web search options; none uses Microsoft’s search engine.

The clutter also negates the interface improvements in Vista. For instance, the TouchSmart’s browser comes preconfigured with four different buttons and panels to search the Web — three powered by Yahoo! and one by AOL and Google. Internet Explorer’s built-in seach pane is pre-set to use Yahoo! Search.

Other bundled applications are also intrusive, especially in a device designed to be an entertainment center. More than once I was watching a TV show or a DVD and playback was interrupted by a notification popping up from the Norton security software that comes with the system.

The most frustrating thing of all, though, was the periodic failure of the remote control. It wouldn’t be so bad if you were using the system at a kitchen counter or a desk, but we were using it mostly from the couch and depended on the remote a lot. Every few days it would go nuts and do things like turn the volume to the maximum level when we tried to turn it up or down.

On Saturday I was in the program guide and tried to select a show on KBTC, the Tacoma public television station. When I clicked on Channel 12 with the remote, the system would start playing Fox Channel 13. Then it wouldn’t let me change the channel back to 12, even if I went back to the guide and tried again. I simply couldn’t get to 12 until I rebooted the system. I was beginning to wonder if this was an insiduous new form of network sponsorship.

It ended up taking about five minutes to change the channel to 12, including the time it took to reboot and get the TV application back up again. It might have been quicker to haul the TV up from the basement.

Other bundled applications are pretty neat. The chess game was a hit, as were some of the games in the Wild Tangent gaming client that comes with the system.

My favorite use of the system was playing digital music. If it were half the price I’d consider using one as the front end of our home stereo, because it’s great to sift through a music collection with the touch screen.

Comments | Topics: Gadgets & products, Microsoft


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