I am now on my second Lenovo machine and I have to say I love the physical build quality and capabilities of these products. However one thing bugs me and that is the bundled productivity software that comes with a new laptop, most notably on the Lenovo products is Think Suite. This is a set of tools that comes with a Lenovo (formerly IBM) computer and deals with things like the function keys, the on screen display of indications (such as display brightness and volume) and most significantly network connection management. It is worth noting that almost every Microsoft Windows laptop sold, from Samsung to HP, has some sort of detritus installed to increase your productivity. I think it was about 13 years ago a friend asked my family to help him buy a really top-notch PC, and the best thing on the market at that time seemed to be the IBM Aptiva Stealth and thus we facilitated the purchase. It was really impressive, in matt black with a separate monitor base/stand with a CD-Rom, a disk drive and a power switch all built-in matching the very good (and very black) monitor. After wrestling with the Windows 95 and it’s extensive IBM customisations they actually returned the unit and we custom built a “beige box” with twice the performance for the same price. Now we are in the era of Windows 7 and the problem is that the productivity tools seem to have grown more tentacles and seem to fight even more with the Windows native tools than ever before.
My last laptop was an IBM ThinkPad R61i and served me very well for three years, it started to have hardware issues and I had cracked the magnesium chassis with a nasty fall. I had actually run that laptop for some months just with Ubuntu and it was blindingly useful; I didn’t need any producitivity tools and I didn’t even need Windows because the available free software filled 98% of the gaps*. I will say at this point that I am afraid there are no real Linux challengers/substitutes for Powerpoint and Visio that truly match their abilities; especially not anything close to the ease of use of MS Visio and OpenOffice is not powerful enough to challenge PowerPoint. Now I have a new Lenovo Thinkpad Edge which is less substantial than the R61i but suits my needs and it wasn’t difficult to get authorisation for the purchase. This bought me back to Windows, with daily use of Windows 7 Pro, and I am reasonably comfortable on either side of the fence. BUT this brings me squarely back to the inspiration for this article: ThinkVantage.
The Windows tools for managing connections have never, in my humble opinion, been lacking in features and Windows 7 brings them up to a whole new level of experience. So why do I need Think Access to manage my connections? Do I need profiles? Not really. Does it do anything that Windows connection manager doesn’t do that I need? Nope. Overall I can’t see anything that the Think Suite provides that isn’t provided for in Windows! Ah, except one thing, it has an interesting software update function which seems to know a little more about the hardware than Windows Update seems to. But just updating part of the Lenovo software seems to need 100MB of download!
Then we get on to the memory: the Think tools sit on top of Windows native tools, so they don’t have any memory advantage but they do have a penalty! Let us take a look at what RAM is currently being used by these tools:
4196 KB Access Connections Deskband Helper Module
4592 KB ThinkVantage Access Connections Profile Manager
5960 KB ThinkVantage Access Connections Main Service
1420 KB Camera Mute Control Service for ThinkPad
6732 KB CSS Authentication Provider
5720 KB Microphone Mute Controll Service for ThinkPad
13244KB ThinkVantage System Update Service
1552 KB On screen display Fn+Fx handler
1036 KB NumLock on screen display for ThinkPad
1292 KB On screen display drawer
6288 KB On screen display message generator for ThinkPad
2168 KB About ThinkVantage Technologies
1104 KB ThinkPad Power Management Service
1840 KB ThinkVantage Active Protection System
This is Private RAM, in KBytes, as measured by Process Explorer from Microsoft Sysinternals. So really, what am I getting for my 57MB of RAM, 100MB downloads and plethora of other interruptions? I get a connection manager that is more unreliable than Windows native tools (several people I know report the same grief as I have with it) and the occasional intrusive pop-up. Well there is progress for you, in the process of adding value they have managed to put a great deal of effort in to doing something a cross-section of their customer base don’t care about. Why couldn’t we have one OSD driver, one that also did key management? Why do I need two “mute control” applications (one for the camera, one for the microphone)? Overall the number of applications here could be halved quite quickly and simple base applications just extended to adapt to different hardware. So, a message to Lenovo: I think it is essential to take another look and ask yourself “do I really need all of this?”. We love your machines, they are well built, but the tools don’t make us feel valued, they just frustrate us when Windows is nearly good enough already.