Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Trackman Marble Fx vs Thinkpad T43

A long time ago, I bought a Logitech Trackman Marble Fx trackball. I brought it with me from Washington DC to Seattle and now to Tokyo. I had completely forgotten about it until last night when I was going through my box of computer peripherals looking for a microphone. It was such a blast from the past to see it again.

Without hesitation, I brought it to work with me today.

At work I run a Lenovo (IBM) Thinkpad T43 with a docking station that allows me to hook up my favorite peripherals to the PS/2 adapters as well as hook up a second monitor without always fussing with cables. Until now, I've been pretty happy with my Microsoft Natural Multimedia keyboard and generic PS/2 optical mouse. Not anymore! I've got myself the cream of the trackball crop sitting here begging me to wrap my hand around its sleek form and push its buttons.

However, what I've found out today is that the T43 and the Marble Fx are not a happy marriage. The Trackman driver software refuses to install the PS/2 drivers on any device that has a built-in trackpad. It will happily install the USB drivers which are TOTALLY USELESS because the Marble Fx does not work well with PS2 to USB adapters.

So the first idea I had was to just install the USB drivers and see what came up. What came up was that the driver software recognized my Logitech device! Happy day! Until I realized that it couldn't figure out what device it actually was. It let me configure some keys, but the picture shown was for a standard scrollwheel mouse, not a cool 4-button trackball.

So I uninstalled that driver and thought about the problem some more. Maybe the Logitech driver is sensing the trackpad hardware and is blocking installation. I fired up the T43 BIOS and found the mouse settings. It is normally set to Auto which means that the trackpad will automatically turn itself off in the presence of a PS/2 mouse. The other setting is Disabled which turns the hardware off completely. Since I was running with the setting on Auto until now, I switched it to Disabled to see if I could fool the Logitech driver installation software.

During bootup, I noticed that the trackball could still move the caret around the screen. The trackpad itself was completely useless and wasn't responding at all. Good news? I started the Logitech software again and the same message as before appeared. We've detected a trackpad installed on this computer, so you're totally out of luck, fella.

I rolled back the driver again and rebooted, setting the mouse setting back to Auto because in the case of royal hosing, I'd at least like the BIOS to be in the state that I found it.

Maybe the IBM UltraNAV trackpad driver software had some tricks up its sleeve. Maybe I was working so hard trying to get the Logitech driver working that I totally ignored the possibility that the built in IBM software could do what I wanted.

Start->Programs->Access IBM->UltraNAV!

Sorry, we've detected that your trackpad is not working at this time, please hang up and try your call again.

Ah, with Auto set in the BIOS, the trackpad goes offline while docked in the station. I popped the machine off the docking station and the program worked this time. However, there were no settings whatsoever having to do with my external mouse. Beyond that, the settings available for the trackpad were pretty redundant. There are 5 buttons and 1 trackpoint nub on the T43. 4 of the buttons are pretty much the same and the remaining middle button requires such convoluted usage that keyboard navigation of GUIs seems tolerable.

Maybe if I remap the trackpad buttons, those same settings will be reflected in the PS/2 mouse behavior. I did my best to figure out which buttons on the trackpad mapped to which buttons on the trackball, but to no avail. When the PS/2 mouse is plugged in, the UltraNAV software turns over control to the OS or something and the default button mapping is used.

So I sit here now with this great trackball but only three buttons working. I don't know what I need to do to get that fourth button working, much less have it mapped to the functions that I want. I don't even know who to complain to. IBM? Lenovo? Logitech? The device is so old that it's not available except from specialty hardware stores anymore, so I doubt I can get any service on it.

If you know how to enable all the buttons on the Logitech Trackman Marble Fx trackball on a Thinkpad T43, please let me know.

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