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|By Mark Dodel © June 2004|
For anyone who has been following my experience with my latest laptop, you know that the one thing I really have been disappointed with is the touchpad. Previous to buying my Medion MD5275 notebook I was using a Toshiba Satellite 2545XCDT which had a Trackpoint for mousing functions. It took me a while to get used to using the pad, but even now after more then a year and a half of use, I find myself accidentally brushing a thumb against the pad and unknowingly selecting and often deleting whole sections of text. Other times I find the cursor moved and text is entered in the middle of someplace I don't want it. I know most people with laptops use touchpads, so there must be something wrong with me, but then again most people with laptops use Windows, so maybe its them. ;-) My wife, who only uses my laptop on occasion was so frustrated by the touchpad problem, she actually suggested I buy a new notebook. But I'm a bit too frugal to spend money when I have a near perfectly working system already.
Short of buying a new laptop my only solution would be a replacement mouse device. But any replacement wouldn't be built-in, which makes it a bit cumbersome to use it in my normal situation. I've been using wireless networking for years now, so I'm not tethered to a desk. Right now I'm typing in this article seated on the couch in my living room. I need something convenient yet it of course has to work with OS/2-eComStation. After asking around on Usenet and the OS/2-eCS mailing lists, I figured a trackball device would probably be the best solution. It doesn't require being moved around like a mouse, so it doesn't need a lot of flat space to work on.
My first attempt was a tiny little Targus notebook trackball mouse. It was small enough to be convenient, but the cord was often in the way and I couldn't get it to work with any of the mouse drivers I tried (the IBM OS/2 scroll mouse, XMouse, and AMouse drivers) for OS/2-eComStation. This was a USB device, but I had tried it with a PS/2 adapter as well with no success. After a few days of trying different CONFIG.SYS settings I gave up and went back to the touchpad.
But I continued to keep an eye out for a better solution. I noticed a discussion on wireless mice on the OS/2 User mailing list. Andy Willis was saying how he really liked the Logitech Cordless TrackMan he was using. It worked under OS/2 either using the USB mouse driver or with a PS/2 adapter. Next was to find a decent price for it to make it worth trying out. I've already been burned with the Targus mouse, though at least this time I had some valid information that it should work with OS/2-eCS. The best price I found was at Buy.com - $35.15USD with free shipping.
The package came in 2 days. The box had the trackball, a wireless unit with a USB cable, and a PS/2 adapter. Of course there was a CD included with drivers for all the various flavours of Windows and even Mac OS and Mac OSX.
The Trackman required a single AA battery. The receiver unit gets its power from the computer connection. Since my USB ports were a bit over-used at that moment, I decided to use the PS/2 adapter and connected the wireless unit. I rebooted the system. I already had the scroll mouse driver from eComStation 1.1 installed. When the system came up, the mouse didn't move. Uh Oh! What could it be? I'm not one for reading manuals, and I didn't even bother to browse the CD that came in the package. Instead I looked at the mouse and the wireless receiver unit. There was a tiny recessed button on each part. I pressed both of these, and after a few seconds the mouse pointer came to life when I rotated the trackball. Turns out this is called synchronizing the wireless mouse.
This was so cool. One of the benefits of using the addon mouse replacement was that it automatically deactivated the built-in touchpad. I could set the Trackman on my desk next to the laptop or arm of the sofa in my den and be productive without the problems I encountered with the laptop's touchpad.
Everything is working on the Trackman. I'm using the latest AMouse 2.5 driver from NBSoftware. The driver is freeware and replaces the standard mouse driver in the CONFIG.SYS. During the installation you can select to have the mouse properties replaced as a WPS object or as a separate program object. I chose the WPS object. The updated mouse object contains additional tabs.
The first page Device
Information identifies the model it detects, the port used, the number of buttons (on the
Trackman, the wheel is also a button), and the number of wheels. I have no idea what
Shape is for. The second page of the Device displays the Device number, which is only
interesting for USB mice and shows the device index; the Channel number shows the radio channel
used by the mouse; and the Battery state shows the current charging state of the battery, which
for some reason for me just shows a "?". The next tab Information is really
just a leftover from the previously installed standard mouse driver. This had me confused when I
saw it since it lists the mouse driver as not properly installed, but it refers to
MOUSE.SYS, so it can be ignored.
Since I was writing this article I figured it was time to try using it as a USB device. AMouse comes with its own USBMOUSE.SYS driver, which it installs to the x:\OS2\BOOT directory. I unremmed the DEVICE=E:\OS2\BOOT\USBMOUSE.SYS line in CONFIG.SYS and rebooted. The mouse pointer moved when I touched the trackball. But when the system was fully booted and I checked the Device Information in the AMouse object it listed it as a PS/2 2 button mouse. And the extended mouse button mapping pages were gone as well. Apprehensively I touched the Medion's touchpad, and the mouse pointer moved. Ack, the touchpad was active again. Reading the readme.txt file included in the AMouse installation files, it states that unless you add a parameter to the USBMOUSE.SYS line, the driver will search for mice in the order 1. Serial - 2. PS/2 - 3. USB, and take the settings based on the first device it finds. After adding /DEVICE:1 to USBMOUSE.SYS line and rebooting, the USB connected Trackman was the only device recognized, and the 3rd mouse button worked again.
For the Wheel, there are 5 settings pages. You can disable the wheel, or configure it to work as a scroller (and set the number of lines to scroll), set it to pass cursor controls, scroll an entire page at a time, or set audio volume. You can also configure it to work with the [Ctrl] and [Alt] modifier keys to do different functions. There is also a radio selection button to choose to have the wheel function only for the Active window or for whatever window the mouse pointer is over. This is a really nice feature, as it lets you work in one window, but you can quickly scroll another window without bringing it to the front. Not all applications work with the wheel. So far two that don't are Home Page Publisher and Adobe's Acrobat 5.0 (from Innotek). It does work well with Mozilla 1.7b, MR/2ICE, ProNews and other applications I have tried.
Button mapping adds a couple of extra pages to the standard, with settings for 3 additional mouse buttons. (Click on the page image to the right for a better view of this setting page.) I like to use the middle button for double clicking. Since some apps like Home Page Publisher don't work with the scrolling wheel, I setup the [Ctrl]+Button 3 and [Alt]+Button3 to perform a PageUp and PageDown respectively. However this only works if the window has focus, unlike the wheel scrolling, so its not nearly as nice. I miss the wheel in those instances.
If you can't tell by now, I'm very satisfied with the Logitech Trackman Wheel mouse. The only downsides so far is that when it is dropped the red trackball pops out and I have to chase after it. But it is easily popped back in and so far continues to work. The Trackman has three small rubber pads on the bottom to help it stay in place, but it is easily knocked off any perch. With no cord, I can place the Trackman wherever I need it and where it is most comfortable. The Trackball is much easier to use than a trackpoint (which comes on many Thinkpads and some Toshiba and Dell laptops), and has the added benefit of not requiring constant wrist movement, which has stopped the soreness I was beginning to notice in my wrist when using a regular mouse for long periods of time. Instead it gives your thumb a workout. It does take a bit of practice at first to get used to though. I really like the added benefit of the scroll wheel. It is something I didn't know I missed until I experienced it. :-)
The radio receiving unit is a small problem, as it is something else to dangle when I pickup my laptop to move it. To solve that I use Velcro strips to attach it to the laptop's cover. There is also the drawback of the PS/2 connector extending out the back, so I have to remember to disconnect that when I put it in my notebook case for long distance traveling. You can see all the things I have stuck on the back of my laptop cover in the image on the right.
A lesser issue is that there are some problems on occasion with placement of the Trackman. Since it's linked by radio to the receiver, it tends to work best for me when it is off to the side of my laptop, with nothing blocking it from the receiver unit. If it is in front of the laptop screen, it doesn't work as well and I usually have to move it slightly to restore the connection. So the issues are minor for me, and even my wife had no problem using it, so I'd say this Trackman is a keeper for OS/2 and eComStation users.
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