Friday, September 16, 2005

Cross-Eyed Mice

The computer I use most these days is my trusty Dell Latitude LS sub-notebook, a slim and light 500MHz PIII machine. It's still running Windows ME, which helps ensure I keep up with my daily dose of pain and suffering.

I installed ME because at the time I bought the computer I was still using a scanner that had no drivers for anything but Windows 9X. (But that's a story for another time.) Also, I was worried that the machine was under-powered to run W2K, XP was not officially supported, and I had heard that ME was the best of the 9X line for dealing with digital video. I wanted to be able to tinker with video stuff on this machine. Curiously, while I can capture DV and edit it just fine,
a bug in Windows ME prevents me from getting back out onto tape. Oh well.

Anyway, the notebook, like many others, has a VGA out port on the back. I wanted to use this port to see if I could run the machine with a dual display. When I'm at home or the office, it would be nice to plug in a monitor and have the expanded desktop of a dual display to work with.

For a while, I thought it wasn't possible, but then I discovered a driver from Dell that actually supported the two displays! For once I thought I was in luck - one of my older devices not only did exactly what I wanted, but it was something supported by the manufacturer.

So I installed the driver, fiddled with it, and got the dual-display up and running.

There's just one little catch.

The display driver has a bug in it. Windows and icons can be moved from one screen to the other, but the MOUSE POINTER always stays on the main screen. If I try to move it onto the second screen, it wraps around and appears back on the main screen at the opposite side. In this weird state, the mouse actually ACTS on the second screen - I can work with windows, move things, click & drag, etc. - but I have to guess at where the mouse is positioned, based on the pointer's position on the main screen.

In practice, this makes the second screen impossible to use. Just like the old Howard Jones song... "You can look at the menu / but you just can't eat, you can feel the cushion / but you can't have a seat..."

And like the song says, no one ever is to blame. Think there's any way to get a fix in a 3rd party device driver for a machine that's past 5 years old? There isn't. But then, that's life on the edge... the SUPERANNUATED edge.

The reason I bring all this up is that today I discovered something that gives me new hope I can get this to work. It's called Powerstrip from a company called Entech. These guys are like the uber-gurus of display driver technology. I found them while searching for a quick way to switch screen resolutions on my laptop when moving between the built-in display (800 x 600 max) and an external monitor, which I do several times a day. They make a tool called Multires, which is like an enhanced version of the old Windows power toy that gave you a system tray icon for one-click resolution switching. They also have a free screen-rotator utility called iRotate, but I haven't tested that out yet.

Even if Powerstrip doesn't solve my problem, it's a cool utility - it lets you do all kinds of stuff with your display adapter, even if the manufacturer didn't specifically build the capabilities into the driver. Don't know if I'll pay for it though if it doesn't fix the mouse pointer bug.

I'm experimenting with Powerstrip now to see if it will do any good on my laptop. I'll keep you posted.


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