Why is it that computer manufacturers totally insist on slapping thousand of memory sucking craplets on their computers? I bought a Lenovo ThinkPad X60 Tablet, and was agog at the amount of stuff in the default install. There were nearly more entries in the Programs and Features list from the factory than I have on my fully loaded desktop development machine! As I was playing around on the factory install, I was sadly thinking that I would pay an extra $200 just to get a machine with nothing on it but the minimum drivers necessary to make the hardware work. The machine is the same solid construction of my ThinkPads of old, and has the greatest notebook keyboard in the world. However, with all those fat, poorly written craplets running, Vista’s Task Manager reported 1.4GB of memory in use after startup. Note that I wasn’t running anything other than Task Manager and this was after letting the machine idle for 30 minutes. After wiping out the machine and installing just the absolute necessary drivers listed below, Task Manager now reports it’s idling at 750MB. To make the comparison as similar as possible, in my install I added CA eTrust, which is the antivirus I use, as the default Lenovo install included Symantec Antivirus.

As I was going through this craplet removal process, I couldn’t help but wonder two things. The first is that it’s no surprise that users think Windows sucks and I don’t think its Microsoft’s fault. All sorts of worthless notification area icons and a huge battery monitor, which is actually bigger than the program tiles, took up half of the taskbar. Many of those notification icons, and that insanely large battery monitor, duplicate existing Vista functionality. For example, the Intel 945GM task craplet does same thing as the Display Settings tab as well as the Magnifier application. Not only that, the UI deserves a top spot in the user interface hall of shame. Does anyone at these computer manufactures actually think about support costs for these craplets? I’m willing to bet serious money, that removing most of the craplets and updating the documentation to discuss the existing Vista features will save huge amounts in support costs for everyone across the business. Another example is the Lenovo Presentation Director software. Vista already has a wonderfully thought out scheme, which already maps to the Fn+F7 key on the X60, for setting up the machine to mirror to an external monitor for a presentation. The Presentation Director software is just ugly, always running, and sucking up huge amounts of memory. Talking to my wife, she said that she and all of her friends would have left all that stuff on because they would be afraid of messing something up. When she saw the before and after memory reports, she was obviously thrilled that I do her tech support.

The second thought I had was both funny and extremely sad at the same time. Lenovo, which purchased the IBM ThinkPad line and all the people that work on it, now has decades of Windows computer experience. I truly like their hardware. It’s very solid, has excellent ergonomics, and the UltraBase is stunningly brilliant. As you can tell, I think the Lenovo software side, just to make this very clear, completely and totally sucks. (Feel free to substitute Dell, HP, or any other OEM for that matter). As I was manually adding just the drivers I needed, another laptop from a company that has a great reputation for hardware was sitting next to the X60: a MacBook Pro. What is so sad about this comparison is that Apple, whose primary business is definitely not Windows machines, has the best Out of Box Experience of any company ON WINDOWS. You run BootCamp, create the driver CD, and boot Windows. When Windows finishes installing, you stick in that single CD, run a single setup, and it installs all the drivers for the machine AND NOTHING ELSE. Total time investment on the MacBook Pro: a single mouse click. Total time investment to achieve the same thing on the Lenovo ThinkPad X60: three to four hours. I have friends who are buying Macs simply because they are easier to setup and run as Windows machines. How many times do we have to tell Lenovo, Dell, and HP that their Out of Box Experience and Use Experience is pure masochistic cruelty before they get it?

Side note: You might be wondering why I’m not just using the MacBook Pro as my fulltime laptop. Well, it’s all about the Tablet PC. I work and think best by writing everything down by hand. A Tablet PC (with no craplets!) and OneNote 2007, truly the greatest piece of software ever written, is the first time I’ve ever had a computer work the way I want to work. I used to go through five or six of those 500 page notebooks a year. Now I have everything in OneNote so I can search, sort, and look all through my notes. For me, it’s the best way to work. As soon as Apple comes out with something capable of running Tablet PC, I’ll have died and gone to nerdvana.

Below are the steps I took to get all the Lenovo craplets off my machine. Huge disclaimer: this worked for me. It may or may not for you. Here lies potential data loss and much pain if you don’t back up your data and settings first. In addition, I’m assuming that you are working with a factory set up X60 Tablet with nothing else on the machine. Finally, this is all about Vista.

  1. Even though you’ll probably never need them, I did save off the Recovery Disks just in case. It’s fastest to use a DVD burner so you can save off the second boot disk as a DVD instead of multiple CDs.
  2. Save off the SWTOOLS directory from the machine. That’s the directory with all the drivers and crapplets for your machine. You could download each of the drivers separately, but it’s easier to have everything there. After some trial and error, I figured out which encoded directory name contained what driver.
  3. Boot the machine and jump into the BIOS by pressing the ThinkVantage button. Go into the Security, PRDESKTOP area and set it to Disabled so you can kill the partition. While in the BIOS, you might want to also turn on Intel Virtualization if you’re going to be using Virtual PC or VMWare. (Config, CPU, Intel Virtualization Technology).
  4. Boot the machine off a Vista DVD and go into repair mode. Using the always-fun DISKPART.EXE tool, kill all the partitions on the disk. The first partition is the hidden restore disk partition. You’re on your own here, I’m not about to post a tutorial for using DISKPART.EXE.
  5. One you install Vista, you’ll be in for an extremely pleasant surprise, as default installation contains drivers for everything but the fingerprint reader. I was most happy to see the video driver is there so I didn’t have to install the Intel drivers then go on a spelunking mission to eradicate their notification area craplet. Woot!
  6. Here’s the order I installed all the drivers and software along with a few notes if appropriate. Under each driver name is the driver directory under the SWTOOLS where you can find the particular driver. My guess is that if you download all the drivers from the Lenovo support site, they expand to these directories as well.
    1. Intel Chipset
    2. Enable Device Initiated Power Management
      This registry entry was set in the default installation so I turned it on as well
    3. Change Idle IRP Timeout for Fingerprint Reader
      This registry entry was set in the default installation so I turned it on as well
    4. Enable USB S3
      This registry entry was set in the default installation so I turned it on as well
    5. ThinkPad Wireless LAN Driver
      The Vista supplied drivers would not connect to my Wireless network, but the ones from Lenovo did work
    6. Fingerprint Software
      I’m amazed at how well the fingerprint reader works. It’s very convenient.
    7. Hotkey Driver
      Makes all the Fn+<key> items work.
    8. Easy Eject
      Only install this if you have an UltraBase so you can eject.
    9. TrackPoint Drivers
    10. Tablet Button Drivers
    11. Tablet Utility Button Drivers
      I’m debating if this application is really worth it.
    12. Active Protection Driver
      Stops the hard disk on bumps and jolts.
    13. ThinkPad LCD Screen
      You’ll need to go into Display Properties and update the driver manually.

In the above list, there is no Productivity Center, no help, or the ThinkVantage System Update. As those are the biggest memory hogs, I’m happy to do without them. If you’re worried about getting the latest drivers, there’s this really neat technology called a web browser, where you can go to this site and see what’s been updated. If Lenovo were really interested in getting everyone the latest drivers, they would work more closely with Microsoft to integrate their drivers into Windows Update. Most of the drivers are obviously already there so it’s a matter of getting the marketing people to realize the craplet experience is making your great hardware look like, well, crap.

As I am in the middle of babysitting the Visual Studio 2005 Service Pack 1 install, which pretty much defines extreme installation pain, I want to discuss one other item about my Lenovo experience because of a blog entry by Joe Wilcox, Vista to PC Makers: Your Welcome. Joe discusses that the Welcome Screen in Vista is the mother lode of advertizing spots. When I booted up the machine with the factory installation, I could not decide if I was looking at a computer or an insane NASCAR ad car. I just dropped over $3,000 on this computer and not only am I being insulted with memory hogging craplets, I’m also being assaulted with ads. Great job, Lenovo! Is it any wonder I now buy my desktop machines from a company that treats me as a respected customer? Please Steve Jobs, please make a Tablet PC!

In fact, I’m wondering if I should send Lenovo a bill for my time spent fixing the broken computer I just purchased.