Chapter 11. System Speedups

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10.4 Of Mice and Keyboards

Most likely, you don't give much thought to the two pieces of hardware you use most every day ‚ your mouse and your keyboard. This section offers tips and tricks for getting the most out of these overlooked but essential pieces of hardware.

10.4.1 Customizing Your Mouse Settings

Moving the cursor with your mouse or touchpad can sometimes feel like you're playing ‚ and losing ‚ an annoying video game. Not only can cursors be hard to find, but dragging items when you use a laptop's touchpad or nub pointer sometimes requires the dexterity of a surgeon. Fortunately, XP lets you change what your cursor looks like and how it reacts to your mouse and touchpad movements.

To begin, go to Control Panel Printers and Other Hardware Mouse. The Mouse Properties dialog box, pictured in Figure 10-6, appears (it may look slightly different, depending on your specific mouse).

Here're some pointers for best settings:

  • Pointers Don't like the shape of your mouse pointer, or the hourglass that Windows displays when it wants you to wait? No problem ‚ you can change them. Click the Pointers tab, then click the Scheme pop-up menu, and choose from any of several dozen pointer designs. Choose the Dinosaur theme, and instead of an hourglass, you'll see an overweight dinosaur, for example. When you've chosen the theme you want, click OK.

    You can also customize your pointer by making it larger, or by making it solid black instead of a white arrow with a black outline. Just select the Pointers tab, and from the drop-down list under Scheme, choose "Windows Black (extra large) (system scheme)."

  • Pointer Options When you move your mouse, do you ever wish the cursor moved more quickly ‚ or more slowly? Changing the cursor speed is easy. Click the Pointer Options tab and in the Motion section, drag the slider to the left to slow it down; drag it to the right to speed it up. Click OK when you're done.

    If you frequently lose track of your cursor you can turn on the "Show location of pointer when I press the CTRL key" box. After you select this feature, whenever you press the CTRL key, a target symbol surrounds the pointer and then vanishes. You'll never lose sight of your pointer again.

  • Buttons Does Windows sometimes seem not to respond to your double-clicks? Or does it sometimes seem as if Windows thinks you've double-clicked, when you think you haven't? Then you need to adjust Windows sensitivity to double-clicking. Here's how: Click the Buttons tab, and in the Double-click speed section, drag the slider to the left to make it more sensitive; dragging it to the right to makes it less sensitive. Click OK when you're done.

Figure 10-6. To increase your pointer's visibility, select "Display pointer trails." When you do that, your mouse leaves visible "trails" behind as it travels across your desktop, making it easier to find. TweakUI PowerToy

If you're already a mouse power user , or you're ready to move beyond what the Mouse Properties dialog box has to offer, you can teach your mouse all kinds of new tricks using the free TweakUI PowerToy from Microsoft. Download it from After you run it, click the + sign next to the Mouse section. Three subsections appear. One of them, Wheel, merely duplicates what you can already do in the Mouse Properties dialog box, so you can skip that one.

Note: Sidebar 10-5 has more tips on downloads that can help you customize your mouse settings.

Here are the other two subsections and what they have to offer:

  • Hover . When you hover your mouse over a menu or icon in order to activate a balloon of text, it can take several precious seconds for that balloon to pop open . Happily, the hover setting in TweakUI lets you change the amount of time, in milliseconds, you must hold your cursor over an area to qualify as a hover. (The default setting is 400 milliseconds .) The hover sensitivity box lets you decide, in pixels, how close the mouse must be to an area for it to trigger a hover response. You can test the effects of various settings by hovering your mouse over the test icon.

  • X-Mouse . This setting lets you use "X-mouse style window activation" ‚ a mouthful of jargon that translates to "you don't need to click a window to make it active." (Just moving the mouse over a window does the trick.) This is one of those personal things: Some people love being able to activate windows in this way because it saves a whole lot of clicking. Other people find this behavior annoying. So try it out yourself and see if you like it. The X-Mouse dialog box is shown in Figure 10-7.

Figure 10-7. If you choose X-mouse style window activation, this dialog box also lets you determine how many milliseconds, if any, it takes to activate the window.

Tip: If you use a mechanical mouse (one with a rubber ball on the bottom), clean it periodically to avoid ‚ or eliminate ‚ jerky or random-seeming cursor movements. Unplug the mouse, then remove the small access panel on the bottom, and pull out the rubber ball. Wash the ball in soapy water or a mild solvent like contact lens cleaner. Clean dirt and dust from the empty socket with a cotton swab, pop the ( dried ) ball back in, and close the panel. You should also clean the bottom surface of the mouse, and make sure the mouse pad or surface it's sliding across is clean.

10.4.2 Stopping Erratic Mouse Behavior

Mice with scroll wheels can behave erratically when used with a laptop. For instance, if you use a serial-port wheel mouse like the Microsoft IntelliMouse, your mouse may appear to jump on its own across your screen. The problem is that the touchpad or pointing device on the laptop uses 3-byte packets , but the wheel mouse uses a 4-byte packet . (A packet is the way that data is packaged when it's sent between the mouse and the laptop.) Your laptop may not know what to do with the packet's fourth byte (which controls the wheel), so your mouse gets the heebie-jeebies.

You've got four options if you've got a skittish scroll wheel mouse:

  • Use a USB wheel mouse ‚ a mouse that connects via the USB port ‚ instead of a serial wheel mouse .

  • Connect the serial wheel mouse to a serial-to-PS2 port converter, and connect that to the PS2 port. Or, connect it to a serial-to-USB port converter, and then connect it to the USB port .

  • Check with your laptop manufacturer to see if there are any patches you can download and install on your laptop to fix the problem .

  • Use a mouse without a wheel .

10.4.3 An Easier-to-See Insertion Point

After you've spent a long day in front of the monitor, you might think that Microsoft should've named the insertion point ‚ that vertical blinking line that indicates where you can start typing ‚ something like the insertion sliver , or the barely visible insertion filament . Fortunately, XP gives you the power to change this skinny line's thickness and blinking speed ‚ both of which can cut down on the amount of blinking you end up doing.

To change either setting, choose Control Panel Accessibility Options Display. In the Cursor Options section there are two sliders, one that changes the insertion point's blink rate, and another that changes its width. As you move the sliders, you can see how your new settings affect a sample insertion point. When you're happy with the results, click OK; the new settings take effect immediately.

10.4.4 The Onscreen Keyboard

Some people are touch typists, some hunt and peck, and still others use one of Windows XP's little-known features: the onscreen keyboard. This virtual keyboard, shown in Figure 10-8, lets you "type" using your mouse, touchpad, or a joystick. It's useful for people with mobility impairments, those using a tablet PC, or in a pinch , anyone suddenly dealing with a broken keyboard.

Figure 10-8. The onscreen keyboard can be a lifesaver if your regular keyboard ‚ or your left wrist ‚ breaks.

To use the onscreen keyboard, at a command prompt or in the Run box (choose Start Run), type osk and press Enter. You can use the keyboard in one of three typing modes:

  • Click to select . Click the key you want to type.

  • Hover to select . Hover your pointer over the desired key.

Teaching Your Mouse New Tricks

Try these downloads to make your mouse even more helpful around the desktop ‚ or just more fun.

CoolMouse . This useful utility lets you assign a variety of functions to your mouse's middle button or wheel, like opening a Start menu under the mouse cursor, minimizing windows to the system tray, or rolling up windows to their title bars. You can also use your right mouse button to select favorite folders in Open/Save dialog boxes. ($24.95 shareware;

Mouse-O-Meter . This program is a thoroughly frivolous and amazingly entertaining piece of software ‚ an odometer for your mouse. It measures the distance, in meters , your mouse travels, and also tracks the number of times you click your left mouse button, your right mouse button, and your keystrokes. Mouse-O-Meter reports on the totals for each, as well as the average per day, and works with any mouse. ($12 shareware;

Mouse Machine . If you repeat certain mouse movements--drawing your sword in an online game, for example--try automating them with Mouse Machine. This clever tool lets you program sequences of up to 99 moves and clicks, and then have Mouse Machine perform them automatically when you click the program's start button. (Freeware;

  • Joystick or key to select . Windows XP continually scans and highlights each of the keys on the keyboard. Press a joystick or a single key to select the key that's highlighted. (You can assign the keyboard key to hit by picking Settings Typing Mode "Joystick or key to select" Advanced.)

To select one of these modes, on the keyboard, select Settings Typing mode, then pick the one you want to use


Appendix A tells you how to make every keystroke count. To get still more out of your keyboard, try these downloads.

Keyboard Express . If you find yourself using the same keystrokes over and over, you can save yourself time and effort with Keyboard Express. This program lets you automate keystrokes so you don't have to type them time and time again, or create and schedule macros , which are a series of key sequences that run automatically. ($24.95 shareware;

ShortKeys Lite . This text-replacement utility lets you substitute text using keystroke combinations that you define.

For example, if you frequently use the same phrase, sentence , or even paragraph, you can define a keystroke combination that pastes that text into a document when you press those keys. (Freeware, or 19.95 for full shareware version;

IntelliType Pro . This free program from Microsoft lets you reassign your keys to do things like launch software, open a Web page, or perform menu commands. It's designed to work with Microsoft keyboards but works with some other keyboards as well. Download it from

Windows XP Power Hound
Windows XP Power Hound: Teach Yourself New Tricks
ISBN: 0596006195
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 119

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