Laptop Helpers: TouchpadPal, BatteryBar

Many moons ago I wrote about TouchFreeze, a free laptop utility that solves one of life's most maddening problems: accidental swipes of your touchpad while typing. (Why isn't Windows smart enough to do this on its own? Just saying.)

Recently, a rather disgruntled-sounding reader wrote to complain that TouchFreeze isn't compatible with Windows 7. (Don't blame me, lady, I didn't write the thing!)

I pride myself on being the cure for disgruntlement, so here's a solutuion: TouchpadPal, another freebie that automatically disables a laptop's touchpad when it detects any keyboard activity (like typing).

And unlike TouchFreeze, TouchpadPal is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

If you've been tearing out your hair over accidental brushes of your touchpad, this simple utility should do the trick. By the way, although it's free, the author does encourage donations--and so do I.

Get a Better Battery Gauge for Your Laptop

Over the years, Windows has gotten progressively better at laptop power management--but it still doesn't tell you much about your battery.

Enter BatteryBar, a free, easy, ingenious power gauge that's compatible with XP, Vista, and Windows 7--and should have been built into all three of them.

Typically, you have to mouse over that tiny System Tray power icon if you want Windows' read on how much battery life is left. BatteryBar adds a full-time, at-a-glance gauge to the right side of the taskbar, which, by itself, is mighty handy.

That gauge shows you either a percentage of battery life remaining or the amount of runtime left; clicking it toggles between the two readings. Interestingly, when you're running on AC power, the gauge switches from green to blue and shows how long until you reach a full charge.

But wait, there's more: when you mouse over the gauge, a pop-up window displays a boatload of additional information, such as total battery capacity, charge/discharge rate, AC status, and even a lifetime estimate based on historical charge/discharge data. That's what I'm talking about!

Although BatteryBar is free, there's also a Pro version that adds more features, like a graph of battery profiles, low/critical power warnings, and automatic power-scheme switching that kicks in when you switch between AC and battery power.

How much? The developer sort of lets you choose your own price: $3 for a one-year license, $5 for two years, or $7-9 for lifetime. Pony up $10 and you get two lifetime licenses.

While I suspect most users will be happy enough with the free version, I admire this creative approach to pricing.

I love this program. Don't run a laptop without it.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com. You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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