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What is TrackPoint?

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  • Written By: R. Kayne
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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TrackPoint™ is IBM®’s pointing stick, a device embedded in the keyboard of some laptops that allows for cursor movement. The TrackPoint looks like the tip of a red eraser and sits between the G and H keys on a QWERTY keyboard, dead center of the home row. Touch typists use the home row to rest their fingers, making the pointing stick the only pointing device typists can use to move the cursor without taking their fingers off the keyboard.

The TrackPoint with its replaceable rubber cap is manipulated with the tip of the index finger. The pointing stick is essentially designed as a miniaturized joystick. Applied pressure in any direction pushes the cursor in the same direction. The more force applied to the device, the faster the cursor’s velocity. Left and right mouse buttons are located just below the spacebar on models equipped with a TrackPoint.

Laptops that come with a pointing stick might also have a touchpad built into the wrist rest below the keyboard. A touchpad is a small, sensitized pad that manipulates cursor movement by finger swipes across its surface. An additional advantage of a pointing stick over a touchpad is that the cursor can be moved endlessly in any direction without repositioning the finger.

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TrackPoint configuration is important since the device is located in the middle of the keyboard. If sensitivity is set too low, it will take too much pressure to move the cursor, which could lead to index stress and fatigue syndromes with repetitive use. If sensitivity is set too high, accidental swipes of the TrackPoint while typing could move the cursor unintentionally.

A common problem with pointing sticks is cursor drift. This occurs when the cursor has been intentionally moved but continues to change position after you’ve stopped applying pressure to the pointing stick. Some software will perform automatic calibration when it senses drift is occurring. The user must momentarily remove his or her finger from the pointing stick to allow for calibration to take place. In other cases manual calibration is necessary.

An optional feature that can be enabled in the configuration software of many pointing sticks is the ability to tap the stick to emulate a click. Since accidental taps can easily occur while typing, many people choose to leave this feature disabled and take advantage of the left and right mouse buttons below the spacebar by using the thumbs.

The TrackPoint was the first pointing stick invented, a device conceptualized in 1984 by Ted Selker who then worked as a researcher and developer. Selker was inspired by his interest in eliminating the delay created by having to take the hands off the keyboard to use a pointing device. In 1987 Selker was working for IBM and realized his invention in the form of the TrackPoint. Today there are no less than ten different names for the pointing stick, each brand developed by a competing manufacturer.

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