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What is a Pointing Stick?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 March 2014
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A pointing stick is a miniaturized isometric joystick embedded in the center of some laptop keyboards, used to move the on-screen cursor. It can be used in lieu of a mouse, or in addition to it. Left and right mouse buttons are located directly beneath the spacebar on models equipped with such a stick. The stick itself resembles the nub of an eraser, and sits between the G and H keys of a QWERTY keyboard. Pointing sticks are included on small laptops that lack the space for a touchpad, but can also be found on larger models that include a touchpad, and on some desktop keyboards.

One advantage of using a pointing stick over a touchpad is that the fingers can remain on the home row of the keyboard while using the stick. The home row is where touch-typists rest their fingers, and many typists prefer a pointing stick because of the time it saves. Research and deveoper Ted Selker invented the device in 1984 for this very reason, and in 1987 IBM®, marketed it as the TrackPoint™.

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Configuring a pointing stick is key for ease of operation and to minimize errors. Located in the middle of the keyboard, it can be easily swiped, knocked or tapped accidentally, especially by non-typists. If sensitivity is set too low, this can cause continual, unintentional cursor activity. Setting sensitivity too high can require more pressure than is comfortable, leading to possible stress, pain or fatigue of the index finger. If you don't require the pointing stick, consider disabling it or selecting the least responsive setting to minimize accidental cursor movement.

Many users complain of cursor drift while using a pointing stick. When it occurs, the cursor continues to wander slightly after the user has finished manipulating the stick. Some software detects cursor drift automatically and will recalibrate the pointing stick to correct it. In other cases the necessary calibration can be done manually using the configuration software.

Most software can also be used to enable a “tap-to-select” feature. In this case a tap of the stick emulates a mouse click. This option might only be appropriate for very accurate typists, as accidental tapping while typing will cause unwanted clicks.

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