How to Load Software on an Ultrabook


by C.K. MacLeod

How do you load software onto a computer that doesn’t have a CD drive? I had to find an answer to this question after I’d purchased an ultrabook all-in-one — a lightweight laptop with with a tablet touch screen.

I love my ultrabook, but it doesn’t come with a CD drive. Nor should it. The whole point of an ultrabook is that it be portable and lightweight. A CD drive is at odds with these goals.

However, I had some word processing software installed on my old computer that I wanted to install on my new computer. Software that was previously installed with a CD. What to do?

You have a couple of options:

  1. Buy an external CD drive for your ultrabook.
  2. Download software onto your ultrabook using your software’s product key.

Fortunately, nowadays, you can purchase most software online and download it easily with a product key. Even software that you had loaded onto your computer with a CD has a product key. So before you buy an external CD drive, try this option first.

Can’t Find Your Product Key?

What do you do if you can’t find your product key? It happens. Your software provider will have sent you email message with a product key in it, so check your email account first. If you come up empty-handed, don’t give up just yet.

Use a Key Finder

It’s possible to retrieve a software product key from your previous computer’s operating system. The product key will be encrypted, so it’s not as easy as searching your computer’s file registry for it. But there are tools you can use to find those product key codes.

I used the free version of LicenseCrawler by Martin Kinzman (see Tim Fisher’s article for a review. LicenseCrawler found a number of software product key codes on my computer. I used Tim Fisher’s procedure for finding my product key code.

I then created a spreadsheet to keep track of all the product codes that LicenseCrawler unearthed, so I have them at hand if I need them in future.

Seek Out the Online Store

Once you have your product key code, you’ll need to go to the online store where you originally purchased your software. You’ll now be able to download your software using your product key.

With digital downloads being the norm, CDs may eventually become obsolete. So go ahead and buy that ultrabook!

Image by Intel Free Press

A Tool for Distraction-Free Writing

QuickPad ProBy C.K. MacLeod

I rediscovered my QuickPad Pro in a recent office cleaning frenzy. It was squirreled away in a cupboard with an old VHS video recorder.

QuickPad Pro is an intelligent keyboard, designed for simple writing tasks. Circa Y2K, journalists reportedly hauled them overseas when lugging a 10 lb laptop was inconvenient, or finding a power source was impossible.

My QuickPad Pro weighs in at 2 lbs 2 oz. While the problem of heavy laptops has been addressed with today’s ultrabooks (my 2014 ultrabook weighs in at 2 lbs, 15 oz), you’d be hard pressed to find an ultrabook that will run for 100 hours before it needs a recharge. It was this single fact that kept my QuickPad Pro out of the giveaway box.

Pros and Cons of Old Tech

If you have an intelligent keyboard in your cupboard, don’t recycle it yet. There may be possible new uses for your old tech. Consider these pros and cons:


  • lightweight and durable
  • starts up quickly (one-button start)
  • distraction-free (no Internet connection)
  • an excellent first-draft tool because you can only write in plain text, which means you’ll get into the habit of focusing on writing and leaving editing and formatting for later
  • runs for 100 hours on three AA batteries
  • doesn’t require the use of a mouse (goodbye RSI?)
  • responds to some keyboard shortcuts, which helps with navigation
  • people who own intelligent keyboards love them and still use them; there’s even a Facebook group for the one I own
  • online support for the QuickPad Pro is excellent
  • some authors (James Scott Bell, George R. R. Martin and Bryan Cohen are three examples) are producing reams of writing using old tech
  • unlikely to be stolen in a smash-and-grab, and it won’t be coveted by your kid


  • the screen has a bit of glare, and it isn’t backlit, but this isn’t a deal-breaker
  • the screens on some intelligent keyboards, such as the Alphasmart, are quite small
  • the angle of the screen is a bit awkward, unless you stack a few books under the screen end of the device or sit up straight while writing (probably not a bad idea)
  • over time, the keyboard can become a bit sticky
  • transferring files to your computer (where you’ll edit and format them) can be tricky if your computer cannot recognize your intelligent keyboard
  • intelligent keyboards are no longer being made, so if you want one, you’ll need to keep an eye on Ebay

Tip: Before you write your next novel on an intelligent keyboard, first check to see if you can transfer files to your computer. If you can’t, search for a forum that can offer tips.

New uses for Old Tech

My QuickPad has become another tool in my my RSI blasting arsenal. It’s helped me to create distraction-free writing sessions, and I’m also experimenting with writing in markdown on my Quickpad. Who knows what can happen when old and new tech worlds collide?

Do you use old tech for writing?

A New Kind of Mouse for Writers

By C.K. MacLeod

Genius Pen Mouse
Genius Pen Mouse

Repetitive strain injury (RSI) can be caused by too much mousing. You can reduce the amount of mousing you do by using keyboard shortcuts, but sometimes it also makes sense to change the way you mouse.

Switch Hands

My editing colleague, Adrienne Montgomerie, suggested I try mousing with my left hand. While that first day of mousing with my left hand was horribly inefficient, it did take the strain off my right hand. Sometimes, though, with the work I do, I need to be precise and controlled with my mouse movements (something my left hand cannot yet do), so I still need to use my right hand, at least some of the time.

Try New Hardware

If you change your hardware, you can change your hand position. So I set off in search of a different kind of mouse, and discovered the Genius Pen Mouse. It’s not a traditional mouse—the kind you palm—but it’s one you hold like a pen.

Initial Concerns

I’ll admit it, I had some reservations about switching my mouse. Could my fingers and brain adapt? The reviews of the Genius Pen Mouse were mixed, and I wondered if I’d be bothered by having to put down and pick up my mouse each time I wanted to use it. For $40 (and prompted by my throbbing wrist), I decided to give it a try.

Pleasantly Surprised

When the pen mouse arrived (start viewing this video at the three-minute mark), it took me about ten minutes to set it up and learn how to use it.The instructions were clear and to the point, and the onscreen prompts were helpful.

It took a bit more time to get my fingers to coordinate the movements for right-clicking and scrolling (left-click is a breeze), and after two days of practice, I’m still developing the finger dexterity required to master the right-click. (If you’ve studied piano, you’ll know what it’s like to develop finger dexterity for specific movements). But I’m of the opinion that anything worth learning takes a bit of time and commitment.

Tip: Still can’t master that right click? Another way to right click is to hold down the Ctrl key while you execute a single click.

Oh… and picking up and putting down the mouse didn’t bother me at all.

Overall Impressions

My overall impressions? The Genius Pen Mouse is surprisingly precise and easy to control. I think it’ll be particularly helpful for proofreaders who do PDF mark-ups because you have more control with it than a traditional mouse. It appears to be sturdy, and the price is fair.

In terms of helping with repetitive strain injury: changing hand positions is always a good idea. There’s no doubt that I could develop hand strain with this mouse, too, but if I switch between my right and left hand (you can do this with the pen mouse), and switch my hardware to mix things up, I have yet another strategy for reducing hand and wrist strain.

Have you tried something other than a traditional mouse?