Windows 10 now has enhanced touchpad capabilities built into it

Windows 10 logo and pointing fingerIf you regularly use the touchpad of your laptop rather than a mouse, then you will undoubtedly know that some things are a bit awkward. Take scrolling down a webpage quickly, for instance. This involves:

1) Moving the cursor (using the touchpad) up to the scrolling “slider”
2) Clicking on the lefthand side of the touchpad and then simultaneously dragging a finger from the top towards the bottom of the touchpad.

And, yes, it’s as awkward to carry out that procedure as it is to explain it. Maybe that’s why I see many of my IT Support clients scrolling down a web page by moving the cursor to the “up” or “down” controls at the top and bottom of scrolling bars and then just depressing on one of these controls until the scrolling has (eventually) taken the view to the right place (yawn).

2-fingered touchpad gesturePrior to Windows 10, there was no universal way of doing any better than this. It’s true that different touchpads had different techniques for streamlining actions such as this, but the controls were buried quite deep in the Windows Control Panel (usually as sub-options of the Mouse Configuration) and the controls varied between touchpads. This made it messy to get to grips with and everything could change if you got your hands on a different machine. I, for one, never bothered learning the gestures as I would undoubtedly get confused when moving between different machines. I also judged that most of my IT Support clients would likewise prefer to keep things simple.

With Windows 10, we now have common touchpad gestures built into the operating system itself that should work on any Windows 10 laptop. So, I think it’s far more likely than before that a small time investment will be repaid in increased productivity. I think this is is especially true as we use smartphones and tablets more and more, so we are becoming much more familiar with the idea of “multi touch gestures”.

So, to whet your appetite, here’s just three of the multi-touch gestures built into Windows 10 that I think are definitely worth learning:

Vertical scrolling – move two fingers simultaneously up and down the touchpad from anywhere within the window you wish to scroll.

Right-click – tap with two fingers simultaneously to produce the mouse equivalent of right-clicking (ie invoking a “context menu”).

Pinch to zoom (eg in web browsers – this won’t work in most other programs).

I will no doubt find the three and four fingered gestures very useful as well, but it takes a bit of determination to keep checking what does what and then remembering to use the options. To see the entire range of configuration items for the touchpad and all the gestures available:

  • Click on the “Start” button
  • Type the word “touchpad” (without the quotes)
  • Click on any of the options that are listed

Touchpad - 4-finger gestures

There are several gestures available that involve three or four fingers

You can easily scroll up and down between the options to see all configuration items for the touchpad (including the ability to turn it off completely or turn down its sensitivity if your cursor jumps around when you are typing). Features can be turned on or off by clicking on the tick (or empty box) that precedes the item.

Although we can configure gestures to some extent, it would be nice if we could define our own. For instance, I would like to be able to minimise the current window with a simple touchpad gesture. Maybe such an option will appear as if by magic in one of the forthcoming (and interminable) Windows updates.

Why does my cursor jump about and what can be done about it?

A cursor bouncing on a trampolineFor at least the last five years, a very irritating problem has affected Windows laptops of many different makes. This is generally known as the “jumping cursor”. One moment you are happily typing away and the next moment your cursor has jumped to a completely different part of the screen and has started placing your text in entirely the wrong place. Even if you are a touch-typist and are watching the screen all the time, this is a big nuisance. And if you just peck at the keys without glancing up at the screen you might have made quite a mess of your typing before noticing anything.

I’ve heard several suggestions as to what causes this and how it can be cured, but the strange thing is that one suggestion might work in one instance, but a different suggestion might work on another machine. This is quite odd as it suggests that the same annoying phenomenon can be caused by several different things. My current “main machine” is just coming up for three years old and it has suffered from jumping cursor all that time. In fact, it’s the worst “feature” of an otherwise excellent Samsung RF511. None of the suggestions below worked for me, but they’ve all worked for other people.

So, what are the things you can try to cure this problem?

  1. Mice in Device ManagerInstall a free utility called “Touchfreeze“. This utility switches off the touchpad while you are typing. The theory is that the jumping about is caused by getting the palm of your hand(s) too close to the touchpad while you are typing. It’s worth trying as the utility is free and it doesn’t seem to impede typing. Having said that, I have to say that I’ve had it installed on my Samsung for yonks and it doesn’t seem to have made any difference. Download Touchfreeze here.
  2. Hide the pointer while typing. Go to Control Panel and then open the Mouse option. Click on the tab for “Pointer Options” and put a tick in the box next to “Hide pointer while typing”. This is the sequence for Windows 8.1. It might be slightly different for Vista and/or Windows 7.
  3. Update the mouse and touchpad drivers. Go to the Control Panel and then open the Device Manager option. Go to “Mice and other pointing devices” and click on the triangle next to that option. This will display all the devices of this type. Right-click on the first device and then left-click on “Update Driver Software”. Take the “Search auomatically..” option and follow the prompts. Do this for all items that appear in the “Mice and other pointing devices” list.
  4. Disable the touchpad and just use a mouse. You may or may not be able to do this. If you have followed the instructions in (3) above you may have seen an option to “disable” when right-clicking on the touchpad. This is probably the easiest way, but it is not available on all laptops. See this article from PC World (the magazine, not the shop) on other ways you may be able to disable your touchpad. If you have a Dell laptop, you can disable the touchpad according to the instructions found here.

Hiding the pointer while typingNote that there is an option to “uninstall” mouse and touchpad drivers when right-clicking in the Device Manager (see (3) above). This may be worth trying in that it will remove old (and possibly corrupt) drivers. However, as soon as Windows detects that there is a device (in this case a mouse or touchpad) that needs a driver it will go and find one. This is a good step to take in troubleshooting, but you can’t disable hardware by uninstalling its driver as Windows will just re-install it.

You might also like to look at a tutorial from Microsoft called Mouse, touchpad, and keyboard problems in Windows

© 2011-2018 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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