Giving my Powerbook the middle finger

two finger trackpad scrollWhen my Powerbook G4/800 was stolen last year at Amsterdam, I gambled that Apple would have an interim release in January 2005 and announce a Powerbook G5 as early as June 2005, so I purchased my Powerbook hoping to tide me over for a revision B Powerbook G5 in 2006 at the earliest.

A couple weeks ago, Apple announced a kitchen sink release for the Powerbook. You can tell that they are running out of things to put in by what they put in—what used to cost money now comes standard. The speed bump is reminiscent of Apple circa 1999.1

One nice new feature is the two-finger scrolling: Mac notebooks don’t have the integrated pointer/scroller that the Thinkpads do, nor do they have scroll zones like some other tank-sized laptops. The solution that uber-geeks use is SideTrack, which effectively acts like the latter and can be tricked out to do much more.

With this iteration of Powerbook, Apple solved this with gestures, much like the zero-force keyboards from FingerWorks. Gestures means that Apple turns the whole trackpad into a scroll wheel when you have an extra finger (in this case, my middle finger) down on it. If you have two fingers sliding up/down, it’s a scroll wheel; if you have two fingers sliding left/right, it’s a horizontal scroller. And just because Apple has to think a little different, if you move your two fingers in a circle, it becomes like an iPod scroll wheel. I’ll pause for a moment to allow you time to figure out how that last one is much better than the first.

This is an amazingly smart idea but it only works because they rewrote their drivers to use the ubiquitous USB instead of the moribound ADB that all previous iterations of Powerbooks used. Sure ADB was state of the art in 1987, but today that’s like having vacuum tubes in your stereo system. I can’t wait until the hackers use this to add more gestures.

My problem is SideTrack went shareware, and Apple will never support two-finger scrolling on an ADB trackpad. (So all you Mac zealots crowing about how Apple had better support two-finger scrolling in your Powerbook, had better get over your sense of entitlement.)

But thanks to Slashdot, I found someone has used Darwin to patch the ADB driver to support two-finger scrolling. It doesn’t work as flawlessly as Apple’s USB version2, but it does work.

If you have a Aluminum Powerbook G4 or a new iBook, you might want to check it out also. It replaced SideTrack for me, and that’s saying a lot. Sure I’ll miss a couple features, but it is a small price.

1 I got my G4/400 Yikes! model in 1999. That year, Apple introduced the G4 at 400, 450 and 500Mhz. A month later, the 500 Mhz hadn’t shipped and Apple introduced an “improved” line at 350, 400, and 450Mhz for a higher price! Because Motorola could not ramp up the G4 speed, Apple ended up going dual processor to compensate. I retired my G4/400 (gift to my father) last Christmas.
2 Here are some problems I’ve run into:

  • Use the “build” button in XCode to build from source—the binary version didn’t work for me;
  • Circular scrolling doesn’t work smoothly;
  • In order to get horizontal scrolling to work in Firefox, you need to go to “about:config” in the Location bar and set “mousewheel.horizscroll.withnokey.action” to 0 and “mousewheel.horizscroll.withnokey.numlines” to 1;
    <img src="/m/im/blog//Firefox_screenshot1.jpg" alt="the Firefox about:config" title="Where to change the Firefox configuration to get horizontal scrolling to work" style="width:308px;height:264px;margin:5px 0" / and
  • It may get disabled when you plug in and unplug your mouse and have “Ignore trackpad when mouse is present” set in your Keyboard & Mouse System Preferences.

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