16 February 2010

Mouse Speed and Sensitivity Settings in Ubuntu

This is a story about the xset utility, that ends with a twist! And it's about my trackball, not my mouse.

I have a Kensington TurboBall Trackball, the best trackball on the planet (so I say), but had an extremely slow speed when I used it in Ubuntu.

You'd think to fix that, I'd just have to open up the Mouse System Preferences panel and increase the speed or sensitivity. Well I did that, and nothing happened. Who knows why.

So I started looking through the Ubuntu OS manual (ie, Google) to see if there's a way to fix this. I come up with things about changing a bunch of code in the xorg.conf file, but I really don't want to have to do that. Not that I couldn't, but for me, the less fiddling around with the configuration files the better. Plus I read somewhere it wouldn't work with the latest Ubuntu releases as it's using the HAL for that sort of stuff now. More config files I don't want to fiddle with.

Hmm, I should be working on my thesis proposal before class time, not mousing around.

Okay, so I find out about this xset utility that I can use in the terminal. Check out the manual (man xset) for how to use it, because it didn't work for me! I'd do something crazy like xset m 512, which should make my mouse move at the speed of light, but it'd still crawl.

I figure it must be because the setting isn't being used, and I need to restart the window server or something...I don't know. Well, I could try logging out and back in. See if it picks up the settings. Before I do that though, I tried an experiment.

Move the speed and sensitivity sliders around in the Mouse control panel, then use xset q to see what settings are changed, if any, and how. The speed slider worked as expected. Then the sensitivity slider.

Move the sensitivity slider to the "high" side and the threshold reported by xset goes high; move the slider to "low" sensitivity and the threshold goes low (to 1). Hmm...

I logged out and back in, then this time, tried moving the slider to "low" sensitivity. Hey, the mouse speed is okay now!

So what did I learn? That "low sensitivity" meant low precision. When the sensitivity was set to "high", it increased the threshold so that even fairly large mouse movements still remained slow and precise. Conversely, if the sensitivity was set to "low", even a small move of the mouse would throw the cursor far into the distance on the screen (ie, moves faster and less precisely).

This must be a bug or something.

You know, I never did find out if xset works because after I logged back in, I just used the Mouse control panel to change the settings, and used xset to examine what changed. Now that my trackball works as expected though, I lost my motivation to experiment with xset.

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