Nov 11, 2010

Think small, developers!

For the past week, my main working machine has been largely crippled by display and performance problems I haven't been able to figure out. It has made working on it nearly impossible, so I shifted most of my projects to my trusty little Lenovo S10-2 netbook. Working intensely on the smaller keyboard for longer than a long train trip has revealed the need to retrain myself with regard to hand positioning and consciously relax certain fingers in order to avoid exacerbating problems of numbness and pain that sometimes result from using a keyboard too much. (Yes, I know... it's time to update my old Dragon Naturally Speaking license!)

The biggest ergonomic issue for me, however, isn't the two fingers without much feeling. It's the lack of adaptation of many software applications to a small display.

There are a lot of translators travelling with netbooks these days. Other professionals too. Yet as far as I can tell, despite the popularity of these devices for several years now, if software displays correctly on it, this is likely more a matter of accident than design. The TWB macros in Trados Classic won't be much of a problem nor will similar applications. But the whole collection of tools with the SDLX / SDL Trados 2009 / Déjà Vu X / memoQ layout style have moderate to serious issues on a netbook display. SDL Trados 2009 actually comes out best in that regard at the moment from what I've seen, but it's far from perfect.

I think this is a niche that could be exploited successfully by a tool vendor willing to help customers who want to work better while travelling light. I include vendors of other translation-relevant tools, such as business management, word count and invoicing tools in this suggestion. If you are a part of one of these shops, run your application on a netbook and work with it for a few hours. Then think of ways to relieve your suffering.

I see developers sweating over interfaces for iPhones, Blackberry devices, and other hand-sized junk. Frankly, a netbook optimization would be easier and more useful. I use my netbook all the time for remote telephony when I'm on the road. Using my Skype account and local wireless networks, I have saved a huge amount of money calling from Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere using my netbook. And when I want to take notes, write or translate it offers me acceptable options, unlike hand-held devices.

Fortunately I can overcome this trouble at my desk by attaching a large second monitor to the video output on the netbook. But it would be really nice if one of my main TEnT tools offered a better interface for working on a netbook by the next time I go on a long train trip.


  1. I think (if this is not already being done) you probably just gave someone else a really profitable idea.

    Your comment just shows that users can sometimes be the better "consultants" for technology innovation (so there must be some truth in all the crowdsourcing hype).



  2. To me, notebooks are like the IPad: If I can take an IPad or notebook with me somewhere, then I can take my Apple MacBook. So I don't see the need for a - to me - smaller laptop. I can't put a notebook in my jeans pocket the way I can with my Blackberry. I can't jog with a notebook and listen to Pandora Radio, as I do with my notebook. I just don't see why I would want a device that fits the space between a laptop and a cell phone.

  3. @John: My Lenovo netbook weighs something like 1.1 kilos. Even my lightest laptop is a boat anchor by comparison. I carry the netbook for hours, take notes, make the occasional photo with the crappy built-in camera, and my arm isn't sore afterward. I often want to do some real work, but I just don't want to deal with the extra weight and bulk of a laptop. And the netbook actually fits in the pocket in the back of my shooting vest.


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