Archive for the 'blog' Category

Toshiba laptop service manuals and the sorry state of copyright law

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

As you would be no doubt already aware, I run a section of my blog here devoted to the free sharing of laptop service manuals. This is a side project I have run for the last three years, gathering as many repair manuals as I could find on the internet and rehosting them on my website for anybody to download and use.

I have unhappy news for you all. Since I was first contacted by Toshiba Australia’s legal department, I have been attempting to discuss with them the potential for me to continue to share their laptop service manuals on my site. Their flat and final response was “You do not have permission [to disseminate Toshiba copyright material] nor will it be granted to you in the foreseeable future.” As a result, all Toshiba material that was on my website is now gone, permanently.

The primary reasons they have given me for this are:

1. “We are concerned that by providing the manuals to unqualified person [sic] you may be endangering their well-being”.

My place of employment puts a massive emphasis on health and safety in the workplace, a policy I am 100% in support of. Safety is an incredibly important issue, and I applaud Toshiba for taking it into consideration, but I think they are a little misguided. I have personally never been injured or visibly endangered by working on any kind of computer system, much less a consumer notebook computer. I have also never heard of anybody else being injured by working on one. While I do understand the drive behind any concern for safety, the reality is that there appears to be no risk to the well-being of myself or any of my readers by providing repair manuals free to download, and so I do not understand Toshiba’s cause for concern here.

It is worth noting that Dell, HP and Lenovo provide service manuals for all of their laptop computers for download, free of charge or registration or membership of any kind, on their various support websites, which would indicate that none of these companies share Toshiba’s concern in this regard. I would not seriously take this to mean that Toshiba laptops are inherently more dangerous to service than laptops of other brands, thus causing them to discourage unqualified persons from doing so, but drawing on my own knowledge and experience I cannot see what risk they are attempting to mitigate here.

2. Their repair manuals contain “proprietary information” and they will jealously protect it at all costs. (These costs would, of course, be to me, as part of their demands included the threat of taking action to recover their costs of taking legal action against me.)

As a factual statement, I can’t really argue with this. Again though, Dell, HP and Lenovo apparently do not find this a concern. Having looked at service manuals from each company, I personally cannot see what Toshiba manuals contain that the others do not that might be something a company would reasonably wish to withhold from its customers. It is clear that this is a decision Toshiba have made in the opposite direction to these other companies, and it is not a direction that is in the best interest of its customers.

3. “The manuals are only available to Toshiba authorised service providers under strict confidentiality agreements.” … “It is not our company policy to grant authorisation for the use or reproduction of Toshiba manuals to anyone who is not an authorised Toshiba service provider.”

The clear message here is that unless you are an authorised Toshiba repairer, they do not want you anywhere near the information that would allow you to more easily service and repair your Toshiba products yourself.

4. “Toshiba copyright repair manuals.”

This is the big one. As the original author of their laptop repair manuals, Toshiba owns the copyright on them and has the legal right to control their dissemination. They have not followed in the footsteps of other companies and made the decision to disseminate them to the public for open use. They are, in fact, tightly limiting access to their manuals only to their authorised repairers, and as such locking its customers out from information they could use to service or repair their laptops on their own.

Copyright law does give other parties some rights to copyright material in certain circumstances under fair dealing exceptions (fair use in the United States). These exceptions are along the lines of granting access to educational institutions, or making personal copies of copyright material for the purpose of creating backups. There currently appears to be no such exception, however, to either Australian or US copyright law that would apply to repair manuals for computers. As a result, we have no specific rights to any official documentation Toshiba have created that might allow us to more easily and economically repair or upgrade laptop computers.

I have investigated the possibility of pursuing action through legal channels. The long and short of it is that I cannot afford the legal representation necessary to even question Toshiba in a court of law. I cannot personally risk taking this route myself, and so as a private citizen I am left with no alternatives.

Dell, HP and Lenovo are three companies that have made the decision to allow us the privilege of accessing their repair manuals anyway – a decision that is 100% in the interests of their customers, and in their own, as people are more likely to buy a product they know they can easily fix if it goes awry. Because of this decision, when someone asks me to recommend a laptop, I will generally go to one of these brands for a suggestion.

Toshiba notebooks are known for their reliability, and I have generally found them to be high quality products. In light of this, it is with a certain sadness that I can say I no longer recommend Toshiba products to anybody, for the simple reason that they are not open with their repair information. It utterly pains me to say that I cannot help those of you who have asked me to help in finding a Toshiba repair manual. Due to the obvious legal reasons, I have not shared copyright Toshiba material since I was first contacted on July 31st, and unfortunately this is how it must be.

Many of you service laptops for a living. Many of you repair and refurbish second-hand laptops for charity and for the less fortunate. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for doing what you do. If you have been affected by Toshiba’s decision in refusing to allow me to share their repair manuals with you, I urge you to contact your local Toshiba representatives and let them know what impact this has had on you, your business or your livelihood. Let them know that you will avoid Toshiba products in the future, and will not recommend them to others, until they are as open with their information as are other competing companies. Perhaps in the future, with public opinion stacked in favour of open repair policies, they will change their mind.

In the meantime, the following websites have some user-created information on repairing some Toshiba models:

http://www.irisvista.com/
http://www.ifixit.com/Device/Toshiba_Laptop

Correction – Lenovo IdeaPad service manuals

It’s been brought to my attention that Lenovo now offer hardware maintenance manuals for what appears to be all of its IdeaPad range as well as for ThinkPads (some links here). I’m not sure when this change was put in place, but it’s a welcome one and I’ll update my site to reflect that change. Thanks, Lenovo!

Donate your old laptops and phones to science!

The wonderful people over at iFixit are accepting donations of hardware so that they can strip them down and turn them into new homemade repair manuals. If you’ve got a faulty or disused laptop, phone or tablet from the last few years kicking around, please consider sending it in – in return they will send you a $5 coupon for their online parts and tools shop, or $20 if it’s on their most-wanted list!

Reactions on Facebook

I’ve seen a few posts on the Facebook pages of Toshiba US and Toshiba Australia with some great comments. It’s interesting that of all of these, the only one anybody at Toshiba actually replied to included a link to irisvista.com – it’s clear to even their customer service people that Toshiba could be doing more for its customers.

Coverage

This has become unexpectedly popular, starting with the link I posted and discussion on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/12ydou/for_three_years_i_have_run_tims_laptop_manuals/

This has also been posted to Hacker News on ycombinator: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4766177

I’ve also just been alerted to the fact it’s on Slashdot as well: http://slashdot.org/story/12/11/10/1334221/toshiba-pursues-copyright-claim-against-laptop-manual-site

12/11/2012: I’ve been featured on The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/12/toshiba_orders_blogger_to_remove_manuals/

Also on a Dutch site, webwereld: http://webwereld.nl/nieuws/112425/toshiba-weigert-publicatie-laptophandleidingen-.html (English translation)

13/11/2012: A fair few people have emailed me about this one: http://tweakers.net/nieuws/85477/toshiba-laat-servicehandleidingen-offline-halen.html (English translation)

I love this one, on Techdirt: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121110/22403121007/toshiba-you-cant-have-repair-manuals-because-theyre-copyrighted-youre-too-dumb-to-fix-computer.shtml

I’m also on the front page of Wired.com: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/11/cease-and-desist-manuals-planned-obsolescence/

Has this been featured on other sites as well? Email me and let me know!

10 minute review: Thinkpad USB keyboard

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

The problem

I have spent an absurdly large amount of my time searching for the perfect keyboard.

Once I decided the numberpad was useless (not being an old-school accountant, I found it faster to type numbers using the keys above the alphabetic keys, and would much rather have the mousing space available instead), it was a matter of narrowing it down to something that was of excellent build quality, comfortable to type on, didn’t rely on silly Fn keys for critical functionality, and had functional media-related keys on it.

Unfortunately, this strict set of criteria appeared to narrow my choices down to… nothing. My ideal input device simply didn’t exist.

I followed lots of potential ideas to their ends. Custom keyboards are fairly expensive in limited runs, and generally limited to niche commercial or industrial applications, or for disabled users. Actually designing and making a new keyboard utterly from scratch is cost-prohibitive for mere hobbyists, and after a few questioning forays into that idea, my contacts in the industry got bored and stopped responding to me.

There’s all manner of “compact” keyboards out there – most of them compromise usability for the sake of shaving mere centimetres off their dimensions, lots of them hide frequently-used keys behind laptop-like Fn-key combos that slow you down, and nearly all of them are flimsy rubbish.

Then there are the almost-rans. The Deck Ice keyboard is pretty cool, but difficult to find now, and has an odd layout anyway. The Happy Hacking Keyboard is far too minimal. IBM’s original Space Saver keyboards are all but vaporware now. The Microsoft Sidewinder X6 came pretty close, but I didn’t like the feel of it when I found one I could try in the shop.

In the end, I gave up the search and bought a full-size Razer Lycosa, because it was pretty and blue and had funky touch buttons. It lasted a year and a half on my desk at home before I became utterly fed up with the unwieldiness of it and frustrated by its weird touch controls.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago – I’ve moved to Sydney, got a sweet job in a place that uses Thinkpads, and fallen more or less in love with my T400. My personal laptop at the time was a Dell Latitude E4300, and over time I’d come to realise how well the pointing stick worked. If the Latitude’s trackpoint was pretty good, the Thinkpad’s was excellent; my work laptop’s touchpad serves mainly as a platform for collecting dust.

This is the thing – before actually using a trackpoint for the length of time it took me to learn to appreciate them, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to try a keyboard with one of them integrated into it. While I had replaced the mouse that came with my work setup, I quite liked my laptop’s keyboard, and so my ideal home keyboard soon presented itself. I give you…

The solution

This is the Thinkpad USB keyboard with Trackpoint, Lenovo part number 55Y9003.

It’s got everything I need – a perfectly standard typing layout, a near-complete lack of numberpad (although the right half of the keyboard will become one, by holding Fn or toggling it with Fn+Scroll Lock to activate Numlock), proper arrow keys, a proper Home/End text-editing pad, quite reasonable volume controls, and a pretty agreeable price tag for such a specialised bit of kit (I spent nearly $90 to get mine, before discovering Lenovo themselves sell it for $75 delivered).

Features

The volume buttons, while small, are perfectly usable, and I’ve grown quite accustomed to them in the time I’ve spent using this keyboard. The speaker mute key glows orange, as would the microphone mute button if I had a microphone that needed muting.

The keyboard also ships with a CD that contains PDF user manuals in many languages, and the driver provides an extra set of Control Panel mouse settings to deal with the integrated trackpoint. The three mouse buttons don’t seem to be configurable separately, but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest – left, middle and right-click are all pretty standard. Middle click works fine to open new tabs in browsers, and having that relative-scrolling action and occasional mousing device available without having to move my hands off the keyboard is quite nice.

Function keys

Some of the function key shortcuts work, too, with varying degrees of usefulness. Fn+F2 does the same thing as Windows+L, F3 (battery information) and F5 (wireless settings) are quite irrelevant for a desktop PC, Fn+F4 is similarly irrelevant to me but does actually put my computer to sleep, F6 does nothing, F7 brings up multi-monitor display settings, F8 brings up the Mouse Properties window above, and F12 would probably hibernate the computer but I think I’ve turned that off elsewhere.

Fn plus the arrow keys perform various Windows Media Player functions (back, next, play, pause and stop). Fn plus Home or End would adjust screen brightness on a Thinkpad, but of course has no effect on a desktop computer.

There’s also a handy ThinkVantage button. It does… a thing… when I press it.

One other function worth noting – as mentioned above, the right side of the keyboard will act as a pseudo numberpad when Numlock is turned on, but unlike the Capslock button, there’s no indicator light to tell you this is happening. This is worth being aware of, because if your computer’s BIOS has Numlock turned on at boot, you might end up at the Windows login screen with no idea why your password doesn’t work anymore, until you figure it out.

Not that I did that or anything. I certainly didn’t panic and use a live CD to reset my Windows password because of this. Shut up.

Other uses

One other huge advantage of this keyboard – which will matter much more to some users, and not at all to others – is that it is a perfectly good keyboard and mouse wrapped into one portable package, and attached to a computer using a single USB port. This makes it ideal as a spare input device for computers that don’t generally have a full keyboard and mouse plugged into them – TV/media PCs, headless Linux boxes, and car computers, to name three glaring examples.

Conclusion

$75 honestly isn’t much to spend, when it comes to good quality keyboards. You can pick up a perfectly usable Logitech or Microsoft keyboard from anywhere for $20-30, and that’ll probably do for anybody who doesn’t type all day. It pays to fork out a bit more if you’re, say, a programmer, or do data entry from home, or send a lot of emails – a brand new, high quality “clicky” keyboard will still set you back about AU$200 at the moment, if such things interest you.

They don’t interest me, however. All I want is a good typing board without a numberpad, a weird layout, or other crippling problems. I found my perfect keyboard in the current Thinkpad USB; some serious thought has gone into this thing, and as far as I’m concerned they got everything right.

If you’ve worked for any length with a Thinkpad laptop, you probably already use a trackpoint at least some of the time – you can probably appreciate the idea of having that feature handy. If so, I can heartily recommend this keyboard to you.

If you’re of the persuasion that trackpoints are the spawn of the devil, and that the humble touchpad is the One True Way, you’re dearly missing out, but I’m not going to convince you otherwise. Go buy an X6 instead, you probably won’t be disappointed.

10 minute review: Logitech M500 mouse

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

About a year and a half ago, the little computer shop where I worked got in a pair of Logitech MX Revolution mice. These were huge, expensive, wireless mice with one awesome feature – the scroll wheel could be clicked into a free-spinning mode, where one deft movement would let you zip through pages and pages of text or whatever at once.

I couldn’t stand the mouse – it was too big and heavy for me to accurately game with for long periods, I didn’t really need wireless, it sacrificed middle-click to switch the wheel in and out of hyperscroll mode, and did I mention it was expensive? – but that scroll wheel was revolutionary and I sorely missed it for weeks after trying it out for a couple of days.

Fast forward to today – new job, new desk, decent work laptop, and a mouse whose main claims to fame include “Integrated wheel scrolling device” and “Business Black color complements ThinkCentre and ThinkPad systems”. I made it nearly four months with the thing, before deciding to treat myself to something better.

That something turned out to be Logitech’s M500.

In brief: USB, corded, laser optical, Logitech quality. Hyper scrolling is switched on and off with the button on top. And never mind the US$ RRP of $39.99 – I paid AU$35 for mine from PC Case Gear.

Accidentally pressing a mouse’s thumb buttons and browsing back a page in Firefox is a pet peeve of mine, and I still do it occasionally with my G3 at home, but the buttons on the M500 are much higher and harder to hit except entirely on purpose without being out of reach. The cord should be pretty long-lasting – it’s lightweight but not too thin. It ought to survive anything short of being absent-mindedly driven over with an office chair.

Tracking is as good as I could need – my work setup involves two fairly high-res LCDs side by side, and being able to flick accurately between Lotus Notes on one screen and a virtual server half a metre away on the other is pretty essential. My old Lenovo mouse did the job, but this mouse is noticeably better at it.

Conclusion: If you spend eight hours a day with your hand glued to a computer mouse, it better be a good one. Any $35 mouse should kick butt compared to the stock standard thing your work PC came with, but I wasn’t expecting anything with Logitech’s hyper-fast scrolling for that price, and now that they’ve figured out how to let you middle-click despite having it there’s no reason not to choose it over anything else. Recommended.

Future proof: The future

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Hello anyone,

I haven’t actually dropped off the face of the earth… just practically. The last 6 months have been insane – I got my drivers licence, crashed another car, bought one for myself, and got a new job in and am shortly moving to Sydney. I’ve been kind of focused more on staying alive than updating this blog, which hopefully nobody will mind terribly much.

Speaking of the blog: New content from here on in is going to be a little different. My new job is an internal helpdesk role, not so much raw computer servicing, so there’ll be fewer random hacks and tweaks and funny screenshots. I still have a couple of how-to ideas kicking around in my phone’s todo list, and I’m working on a pretty in-depth review of my new GPS, but I’m not working so much with consumer gear anymore, so that’s probably going to be it for that stuff for a while.

In future I’d like to concentrate a bit on hardware reviews, overclocking, things like that. I’ll still be poking the driver guide and laptop page from time to time – those two projects are still getting a ton of traffic, so I’m not just going to close them down and walk away – but any updates will have to come from you, my readers.

I owe a massive apology to everybody who’s emailed me in the last few months, and not had a reply. I do read everything sent to me, but have been a bit too overwhelmed by life to give every message the attention it really deserves. I plan to reply to each and every email from now on.

Another apology and huge, huge thanks to everybody who’s kindly donated some of their own hard-earned money towards the cause of my laptop manual page. It’s really made all the difference in helping me keep up with that, and I am a terrible person for not thanking each of you individually, but again I’ll try to do better in future.

New page: My F6 driver guide

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

I’ve finally had the time to finish my F6 driver guide. I’ll eventually augment it with as comprehensive a list of F6 drivers as I can build and host, but for now it’s just an absurdly detailed walkthrough.

Yeah, most people have moved on from using 2000/XP/2003, but I think that’s all the more reason to have this information still kicking around – this bit of knowledge is slowly dropping out of the working memory of most geeks simply because it’s no longer needed most of the time, which means finding people who know about it will get harder and harder.

Anyhow, have a read of it if you’re so inclined, and let me know if there’s much I could improve about it – everything on that page is perfectly clear to me, but it may not be so for others, and I’m only one of the people I’ve written it for. :)

Updated: How to fix a reassigned C:/ drive letter

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

More than two years after I wrote this first blog entry dealing with the subject, having come up against this problem time and time again without being able to fix it, I went and did some experimenting on a PC at work to see if I could find a solution.

Short version: Instead of trying to swap the drive letters around by renaming the \DosDevices\ registry keys, I’ve discovered that if you delete the lot of them, Windows will recreate them when it next boots (as many of them as you have discrete disk drives plugged in at the time), and on the machine I tried it at work today it worked flawlessly: it reassigned the boot drive as C:\, the CD drive as D:\, the four card reader slots as E:\ through H:\ and everything was fixed.

Longer, more helpful version: If you’ve just added a hard drive to your PC (typical scenario: it’s the ex boot drive of an older PC you’ve just decomissioned, and you want the data off your old XP install) and Windows no longer boots, getting stuck instead just before the welcome screen with just the windows XP logo showing and no “Please wait” text below it, it’s very likely that XP’s suddenly developed an identity crisis of sorts and is referring to the new drive as C:\. It’s stupid, really quite illogical, and basically poleaxes that install unless you’re willing to play chicken with the registry.

Fortunately, this game of chicken is reasonably tried and true, and it’s easy enough to figure out if you’ve got even a bit of technical familiarity with your PC (as you probably are if you’ve just opened it and plugged another hard drive into it).

Hit Windows + R to bring up the Run dialog (probably you can also get to it by clicking your Start menu and then “Run…”), type regedit and hit enter. This will load the Registry Editor, which is basically a precision scope that lets you look inside your operating system’s brain. This particular registry key – HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE / SYSTEM / MountedDevices – lists the mapping between various disk drives on your computer and their respective drive letters as visible in My Computer.

What happens is that it sometimes gets confused about how to refer to your boot volume, and if your boot volume’s drive letter changes after you install XP, it will probably get stuck partway through starting up and hang just before the Welcome/login screen.

The information here might also be of interest/use to you if that drive letter was D:\ or E:\ or something else other than C:\ from the moment you installed XP, and you want to change it back to C:\ without having to reinstall again.

The fix: Deleting each of the \DosDevices\ values shown in the registry in the above screenshot will cause Windows to recreate and reassign the drive letters in your computer. If XP’s not booting anymore, obviously you can’t just run regedit like above, but there are ways around it. There do exist commandline tools you could run from a floppy disk or something, but by far the easiest way is to grab a registry-editing liveCD of some sort. I use Mini XP on Hiren’s BootCD, but this tool should do the trick easily enough for most.

This procedure has so far worked to bring Windows XP back to life on both a customer’s PC at my work, and on my own laptop at home (on which I dualboot XP and 7 for just this sort of messing about). If you try this method, leave a comment or email me and let me know how it went!

Update 10/2: If you have programs installed to drive letters other than C:\, be aware this could wreak havoc with those. Windows may be intelligent enough to reassign the driver letters with respect to installed programs, or it may not be. I haven’t tested this, and being a rare set of circumstances I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to. Your best bet in that situation would be trying the old manual renaming method. Remember you could delete the DosDevices entries to fix things enough to make it bootable again, and then swap drive letters D+ to your heart’s content to get your other programs to work without reinstalling those.

Some news for once

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Haven’t had a chance to update much lately – work’s been flat out, I’ve just had all four wisdom teeth out (with almost no pain, fortunately), and every other second of my spare time has been spent racking up hours on my Ls (nearly done!).

My laptop service manual page has nearly quadrupled the number of visits to my site – I’m getting close to 15,000 page views every month now, and that number is steadily increasing. To celebrate I thought I’d share a few oddities I’ve found while searching for various manuals.

This is the service manual for Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Model 100 computer. This was way before my time, and I don’t think I’ve actually seen one in the flesh.

This (click for full size) was the full list of screws used to hold one of these together. While modern, intelligently designed laptops are built with maybe four or five different sizes maximum, back in the day Apple liked to make things as hard as possible (I suppose they still do) with this mix of nine Torx screws. I’m glad I never had to disassemble a 550c.

These images are from the service manual to the original Mac Mini. Where some companies recommend a flat-head screwdriver, and Apple themselves have previously included handles, the official tool for separating the two halves of a Mini is a sharpened putty knife. They include instructions to make your own, or you can order the official part – number 922-6761.

Out and about

Friday, October 30th, 2009

On the side of a machine that rents trailers at a servo:

SWIPE CARD HERE

Airport Krispy Kreme:

Krispy Fail

Guess the restaurant:

"Dude, what the hell did you have for dinner?"

What a dead pixel (and a very small portion of the fileserver at work) looks like:

When you make millions of something, one or two are bound to come out with toethumbs.

Howto: Edit the boot menu easily in Windows Vista and 7

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Startup options in Windows XP. Startup options in Windows 7.

The Windows XP boot menu is determined by the contents of C:\boot.ini, a scary little text file that nevertheless is pretty important to know about if you fix computers. Microsoft changed how the boot menu works in Windows Vista and 7, helpfully removing the Edit button as you can see in the screenshots above.

You’re meant to use the even scarier command-line-only tool bcdedit, but I can’t be bothered learning how that works just to fix the incredibly basic problems I usually see (duplicate entries due to messed-up OS installs or repairs, or tweaking dualboot systems properly).

I’d like to share a lazier solution: VistaBootPRO gives you a perfectly good GUI for boot menu editing. The personal edition sells for US$10 on their site, but there appears to be a free version available here if you’re only going to need it once or twice.

VistaBootPRO on Windows 7.

It gives me a slightly scary error message on startup about Vista not being detected (I’m running Windows 7) and that I may “experience minor problems”, but it’s worked fine for the basic things I’ve done with it. YMMV.

captain’s log

Sunday, July 26th, 2009
  • I had two weeks off work. It was good.
  • I’ve majorly reorganised the laptop manuals. Whole sections were disappearing and reappearing as I sorted/renamed/uploaded them again, but it’s all done and should be a whole lot more readable now.
  • An independant game studio is remaking Mechwarrior. Check out the interview with the two guys behind it, and the teaser gameplay video they made. Looks perfect so far.
  • I bought a Bluray reader. Review coming soon. It’s weird.
  • I painted my room. It’s nice in here now.
  • Llama llama duck.