"Linux Gazette...making Linux just a little more fun!"

Touchpad Cures Inflammation

By Bill Bennet

Here are some reasons to go to a little touchpad for Linux:

  1. It will exercise your whole hand digit by digit.
  2. When you take the pressure off of your "clicker finger" your chronic carpal tunnel and joint soreness will go away in a few days.
  3. When you work without soreness, you will enjoy your Linux box even more than you do now.
  4. You can really truly do magic hand gestures to make your machine go.
  5. It works better in Linux than in the monopoly system!

         So, what make and model are we talking about? It is the Elite 800 dpi EZ-Pointe serial touchpad by PC Concepts. I got mine at Computer Avenue (www.computeravenue.com). Developed for the Windows-Intel monopoly system, it comes with a diskette that holds the "drivers" for Microsoft's DOS and their 16-bit and 32-bit window managers.

          The DOS setup of the pad is simply a matter of putting the diskette in the floppy drive and copying the "drivers" over to your machine. You get the usual triple set of instructions: one for DOS, one for 16-bit gui DOS and one very "clickety" set of instructions for 32-bit gui DOS 7.0.

          After about twenty minutes of fiddling and adjusting, you are back to square one: you have installed a serial pointing device. Yes, you can enter in some key bindings coupled with clicks of the primary and secondary switches. You can set up hotspots accessible from a set of keys and clicks of switches. When the play-time is done (about twenty minutes or so - depends how playful you feel), you have to reboot your machine to record the settings. Ok, no problem.

          Now you can use the pad. You will find that all of the fiddling and customizing was a waste of time, since you will just be doing same-old, same-old with a new pointing device. When it comes to RSI, you can get yourself a better mouse or you can get yourself a totally new pointing device.

          The time comes when you want to see this thing work in Linux. Then you realize that your DOS fiddlings with "drivers" will be impossible in Linux because all of the "drivers" are written for the Widows-Intel monopoly system. It makes me think.

          Where does the typical hardware problem start? Right! It starts with standard manufacturing procedure: you follow the market. So the typical hardware problem in Linux is about hardware that will work only when a set of mystical registers is set up; those settings which can only be set with DOS software. We all know that the majority of PC owners are forced to get DOS software when they buy their machine. All we need is hardware that works on its own interface (like your BIOS and CMOS at startup) and hardware that will accept signals from any software, as long as the signals are correct.

          The non-standard hardware that uses non-standard settings is often (too often) kept from us by manufacturers who force the signing of a NDA (non-disclosure agreement) in order to protect their secrets. Ask yourself: is it a secret because it is simple and elegant? My answer is that these companies are afraid of a certain big, bad wolf company that steals innovation; this same thief claims to be the leading innovator! It is no wonder, then, that certain hardware is not yet open to Open Source.

          We also need for the manufacturers to hear that Linuxians will purchase from "Linux friendly" companies first. First and foremost, the consumer can really influence the computer industry by supporting the protocols that are open and free for all users. So do not buy from a company that seeks to own the protocols and do buy from companies that adhere to the protocols as they have been established.

          Enter the serial port protocol for the serial mouse. A mouse is a mouse. Evidence for the DOJ: a "regular" mouse is a Microsoft mouse. If any of you folks think that there is no need to curb monopolies and their anti-competitive, locked in, exclusive contracts, remember this: a "regular" mouse used to be an Apple mouse. Apple had the home computer mouse first and they played fair. It is my contention that Apple needed to play a bit more hard-nosed. Just look at who "owns" (influences) them now.

          The defacto standard for a "regular" serial mouse is based on its ubiquitous placement as an accessory for the monopoly system PC. Besides, we users like pointing devices. For the sake of clarity, you even call a "regular" mouse or the touchpad a Microsoft mouse when you install Linux.

          Well, it is time to leave the pad plugged in and reboot the machine to Linux. Good. Let us see if it works without all of these DOS driver fiddlings. You wait. You hope. You curse the monopoly. Then it happens.

          Gpm -t ms is running. You brush a digit across the pad. It's alive! Now for startx.

          The pad will work as a regular mouse in Linux without any of those annoying "drivers" because the Linux mouse config is ready for any serial mouse. No drivers. No fiddling. And the left and right buttons work just fine. In fact, it seems to me that the motion is smoother.

Give me a bit of skin anyday

          The standard procedure for operating a mouse is odd to watch if you look at it like a non-computer-familiar person. The operator holds the hand in readiness on top of the mouse. Whether you are a "micro-wrist-twitch" artist or a "full-shoulder-pusher" or a "swing-punch-twister" it all looks the same: your finger rests on the clicker and moves in one axis, making a tiny movement over and over. The term "clickfest" was coined as a derisive remark by some person with an aching "mouse wrist" and and a sore "clicker finger", I'll bet.

          Enter the pad, man. Brush a finger, any finger across the smooth touch pad. Your cursor will follow. Skin is in. Try a knuckle. Any skin covered body part will do. Now do a little light tap on a menu button. It responds. Do a light double tap. This light double tap is now your new "clickety-click". You do have switches, and they make drag and drop a little easier. I prefer to do the light stroke thing at this time; it just is way too cool and human, if you know what I mean.

          Then you try some fine pointer movement, such as in xpainting or GIMP-ing. Wow! The finest single pixel motion is waiting for you with a touchpad. It is done with a "fingerprint rollover" of a fingertip; just like you get when they throw you in a holding cell at your local ticket giving outlet. You get good traction and positive one-to-one feedback from the pointer with none of that annoying mouse-ball slippage. The finishing touch is the drag and drop, where you can move to your target, take your digit away from the pad surface (the cursor stays put), move it to one edge of the pad, touch down and tap twice to light up the target, and drag your targeted item to its destination. It is just a pleasure to work with a touchpad.

          So that is it. No HOWTO is needed for this seriously fun way to point and click on your screen. Best of all, there is no fiddling with no damn "drivers".

          When your carpal tunnel soreness goes away you may once again be carefree and easy-going at your monitor. Do you suppose that flame wars are due to pain from mousing in addition to the pain in the usual place? Adios from this desktop.

gpm note

          The gpm for a two button mouse is gpm -t bare. It also works on gpm -t ms if you want or need three-button emulation.

3 button emulation note

          As a three-button mouse emulator, the pad is very nice because the middle pair of left/right switches are about 1 millimeter apart and can easily be pressed together with one finger. The point is that you do not have to make any adjustments from your "regular" mouse setup, which is in /etc/X11/XF86Config in the pointer section. Just plug it in and make it go.

rodent protocol

To see the various rodent protocols, type "man mouse" to see the fine documentation.

I was set up!

XF86Setup is the graphical setter upper for your mouse and X Windows.

Xconfigurator is the console/xterm setter upper for this same job.

xf86config is the text based setter upper.-- pick a binary, any binary

Reference reading:

XFree86 HOWTO -- required reading for Linuxians -- see secret video timings

3-Button-Mouse HOWTO -- you might have fun with this -- prep for surgery

Loadlin+Win95 mini-HOWTO -- to beat the "DOS only" hardware trick

"Loadlin.exe Installer", Linux Gazette issue #34, November, 1998 -- step by step

made with Emacs 20.2.1 on an i486 with GNU/Linux 2.0.32

The word damn is used to emphasize an adamant position and is in no way meant as an affront to sincere readers.

Copyright © 1999, Bill Bennet
Published in Issue 36 of Linux Gazette, January 1999