This is a small guide on to how to get two finger scrolling and other multi touch gestures on your Windows laptop. Even if your laptop is already capable of scrolling using two fingers, this guide can still be worth reading, since according to my experience the “feeling” can likely be significantly improved!
With a brand new Win7 laptop in front of me I expected the touchpad to deliver a modern multi touch gesture experience. If you have used an Apple laptop and scrolled webpages by dragging two fingers on the touchpad instead of fiddling with a scrollbar, you know what I mean. Unfortunately my hopes faded rather quickly when I discovered that the trackpad seemed to lack support for multi touch gestures. But I refused to accept this, and after some diligent searching and testing I have finally found a solution that works for me.
Step 1: Update the drivers
The first thing I did was to dig through the driver settings. Imagine my surprise when I couldn’t find any settings for two finger scrolling. However, there were a few other options, indicating that the touchpad was actually capable of detecting more than one finger at a time. Having investiged this it turns out that the drivers shipped with the computer simply did not contain support for two finger scrolling even though the hardware itself supported it!
The dominant producer of touchpads for portable computers and other devices is called Synaptics. This corporation delivers touchpads to several major computer manufacturers. But as I understand it, patent issues causes many computer manufacturers to not ship the “full” drivers. Instead you get a crippled version where functionality has been removed. There is an easy solution to this though. You can get the full drivers by simply downloading them directly from Synaptics support page.
So I got the real drivers and a number of new options appeared in the driver settings, including the desired option to use two finger scrolling (enabled by default). Nice, I thought to myself, until I tried to use it. It turned out that the responsiveness was really bad. The touchpad did not seem to properly detect when I used more than one finger. Sometimes I had to swipe my fingers ten times before the drivers detected this and initiated the scroll feature. Most of the time nothing happened, which you probably can tell is extremely annoying. In addition to this, when it actually did scroll, the mouse pointer would change into an ugly picture to indicate this, which I find totally useless and quite distracting.
(I have tested several computers with default drivers since I got my computer. Many of them already had multi touch functionality enable by default. My experience with these drivers are that the responsiveness varies between different computer models. I probably got one of worst available (a fully equipped and quite expensive Asus U36SD). But even on laptops that work much better than mine, my opinion is that the feeling still leaves much to be desired when compared to, for example, the silky smooth scrolling experience on Macs.)
Step 2: Switch to open source
While searching around for a solution to the problem of poor responsiveness I stumbled upon a blog post that had a comment, mentioning a little program named TwoFingerScroll. This program replaces some of the built in functionality of the drivers to give you better multi touch scrolling. The result is excellent responsiveness and feeling! It simply works as you’d expect it to!
Before installing TwoFingerScroll, I recommend turning off most features of the Synaptics drivers (but don’t uninstall the drivers as they are still required). First disable the build in two finger scroll as this will interfere with TwoFingerScroll’s implementation. You may also want to disable other features in the drivers, since most of them are more or less worthless if you ask me. I do like the momentum feature though, so my suggestion is to experiment until you find a solution that suits you!
Update: The original TwoFingerScroll has not been updated in 3 years, but thanks to being free software a brave new soul has taken upon himself to update the program and add new features! You can find these updates at the TabletPCReview forums.
Step 3: Enhance Windows
Multi touch scrolling does not seem to be natively supported by Windows. The implementations apparently work by emulating the scroll wheel function on the mouse. This kind of implementation (basically hacking the system) tends to open up for more or less good solutions. The most obvious problem I found is that the fact that the “control” currently having focus always receives the scroll wheel input. This means that if your mouse hover above a scrollable list or page of some kind, but this list is currently not selected, nothing will happen when you try to scroll, since the selected control in the currently active window is getting the input signals instead of what is underneath the mouse. This is how Windows works by design, but when using the touchpad I found that it become more obvious and forces a non-intuitive way to use the touchpad because you constantly have to precision-click to select the active control before you could scroll it.
The solution I found was to get a utility that automatically redirects the scroll wheel signals to the control located directly underneath the mouse pointer. There are several to choose from. I settled on one named KatMouse. Whether or not this is the best program I don’t know, but it works well enough for me.
Step 4: Configuration
Almost done! But to make the touchpad more intuitive to use it may be worthwhile to configure TwoFingerScroll a bit to handle right and middle mouse button clicks without having to use the physical buttons on the touchpad. I’ve configured it so that if I “tap” with two fingers simultaneously it corresponds to doing a right click. If I keep a finger on the plate and tap with a second finger, this is equivalent to clicking with the middle mouse button (usually button on the scroll wheel). There is a small problem with the mouse pointer jumping away when “middle clicking”, but I can accept this. There is a small problem with the mouse pointer jumping away when doing the middle click, but I can live with it since I feel this is the most natural way to use the touchpad I’ve found so far.
The bottom line is that using these utilities and settings, I now have a laptop that I can control using the touchpad in a way that I enjoy. It’s not perfect, but compared to the way it was when I first got the computer, it’s a minor revolution. I hope anyone reading this gets the same results. I find it fascinating that a large corporation like Synaptics is unable to make sensible drivers, instead requiring an open source program by a hobby developer to give Windows PCs some feeling!