infoTECH Feature

September 27, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Laptop Utilities

I’ve written past columns about some of my favorite software utilities, those tools designed to make your work and life at the computer a bit easier. I thought I’d revisit that topic, but this time look specifically at laptop utilities that can help you when you’re tapping away on your portable.

BatteryBar, keeping track of how much juice your laptop battery has left when you’re not plugged in is critical. You don’t want your battery hitting empty when you’re in the middle of writing an important and lengthy document or email. Some laptops do a decent job of telling you both the percentage and time you have left on your current battery charge, while other portables provide very little information. Either way, one utility that does a nice job keeping track of your battery power is BatteryBar from Osiris Development.

Resting at the bottom of your Windows taskbar, this handy tool provides a wealth of details on your battery charge. Clicking on the tool’s icon switches among three different displays: percentage of battery power left, minutes left on your current charge, and the rate of discharge. Hovering over the icon provides even more details, including your battery’s capacity, the total number of minutes provided on a single charge, and the percentage of wear on your battery.

Even if your laptop provides some of this information, BatteryBar is more accurate as it keeps historical data on your batteries the more you use your computer. This allows it to come up with a more precise calculation of your overall battery life and time left on a single charge.

Osiris offers two versions of BatteryBar: a free edition that provides all the basic information, and a $10 Pro version that kicks in several additional features, such as low battery charge warnings, graphs of your battery profiles, and the ability to quickly change your power scheme on the fly. Whichever version you pick, the tool is well-designed, unobtrusive, and easy to use. Osiris even provides online documentation and a discussion forum where you can swap messages with other BatteryBar users.

Two-Finger-Scroll, first made popular on Apple’s (News - Alert) MacBooks, allows you to use two fingers to scroll up and down on your touchpad, catching on in the Windows world. However, not all Windows laptops support this feature, and even some that do support it don’t always handle it properly. For instance, the two-finger scrolling on my HP Envy 14 laptop is extremely inconsistent and unreliable. To the rescue comes a handy little utility called Two-Finger Scroll. Available through Google’s (News - Alert) Project Hosting website, this tool is designed to work with Synaptics touchpads on Windows laptops.

Once enabled, you can use two fingers to scroll up and down your screen. You can vary the speed and acceleration of your scrolling and even customize the actions that occur if you tap your touchpad with two or three fingers. I found Two-Finger Scroll much more accurate and dependable than the built-in scrolling functionality on my HP Envy. Though the utility is free, the developer certainly invites donations via PayPal (News - Alert) to help him develop future versions.

Have you ever been typing on your laptop and your palm or finger accidentally brushes against your touchpad, sending your cursor jumping around the screen? Some touchpads are very sensitive so that the slightly pressure from your hand is enough to move your cursor when you don’t want it to move. Touchpad Blocker is a program that comes handy in these instances. Available from, this free tool can block any input to your touchpad if it senses you typing. You can set the threshold in milliseconds to tweak the software’s sensitivity, tell it to beep when it blocks touchpad input, and set up a hotkey to turn it on and off.

Lance Whitney is a journalist, IT consultant, and Web Developer with almost 20 years of experience in the IT world. To read more of Lance's articles, please visit his columnist page

Edited by Jaclyn Allard

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