Have you ever had something that you couldn’t live without but you were deathly afraid to use for fear of breaking it? Well, that’s how I feel about my FingerWorks TouchStream LP. If you’ve ever used a FingerWorks, chances are you either loved it to death or hated it. FingerWorks was a company that produced flat Human Interface Devices (HID) that had touch sensors that sensed your hand movements and generated input to the computer.
I can remember when I first found out about FingerWorks. My buddy, Keefer, saw an article on Slashdot about the company and at the time their concept on getting input from a user into a computer. You had to sign up to be notified as products were released. Needless to say, we signed up.
I started off with a FingerWorks Touchpad that was basically an over sized (5″x7″) touch pad. At $100+, it was quite expensive but I fell in love with it almost immediately. By using various hand gestures and finger combinations you could go beyond the normal point and click functions of a touch pad. Certain combinations would allow you to cut, paste, open new documents, close documents, print, switch between windows, and a whole lot more. The device was very robust and best of all, cross-platform. It didn’t matter if I was using it on Windows or Linux, it just worked. All of the special combinations were stored in the firmware so there were no drivers to load. In short, it was great!
Finally, FingerWorks released the much anticipated TouchStream full sized keyboard. Due to a combination of its hefty price tag ($250+) and my current income at the time, I held off on buying the keyboard until Tax Returns came in. The learning curve was pretty extreme for me. It was very difficult to get used to typing with no sort of feedback from the keyboard other than the letter appearing on the screen (and hopefully it was the right letter). There were several days where I simply had to unplug the keyboard for productivity reasons. It was really learning to type all over again and it took me a good 3 months before I really had the hang of it. The keyboard maintained the same great features as the touch pad, cross-platform, no drivers needed, and a slew of neat gestures. With two hands, your number of gestures tripled (Left hand, right hand, and even both hands). They gave you software so that you create your own custom gestures for things like custom macros or application actions. The keyboards featured special “programmer” gestures that allowed you to quickly write common coding macros like ‘->’ and ‘//’. Life was good. Firmware updates and new features were coming out fairly regularly. They came out with a software add-on called Xwinder that allowed you to control the shape and size of windows using gestures that literally stretched the window.
Then, all of a sudden, FingerWorks went out of business. No new products, no new firmware, and they even made their forums read-only. It wasn’t a complete shocker, the learning curve really meant that only a niche market of enthusiast would buy into the product despite their claims of ergonomics and attempt to market to the Carpal Tunnel inflicted. I started to get nervous about the future of my own FingerWorks, I set out to find a spare or two on eBay only to find them priced in the $900+ range (way out of my price range even with my updated income levels). One day, the left side of my keyboard started acting oddly. It would stop responding to key presses and then all of a sudden the keyboard would gain a mind of its own and start moving the cursor or typing keys sporadically. Unplugging and plugging the device back in or flashing the firmware usually seemed to be the cure but I dread to one day find my keyboard completely unresponsive.
Keefer once again came to my rescue and pointed me to a new FingerWorks Fan site (http://fingerfans.dreamhosters.com/ ) where FingerWorks fans are trying to help each other. I already found a potential fix to my issues with their ribbon cable replacement.
I know that one day my TouchStream will have to join the likes of my Tandy 1000 and 2400 baud modem but I don’t remember ever being so fond of an input device as I am of my TouchStream. For now, I’ll just pretend that I’m “Typing on Gold.”