Fly Your Linux Box by Gyromouse

by Rob Reilly
Product Information

Product: Ultra GT Gyromouse

Manufacturer: Gyration

URL: www.gyration.com

Price: $119.95 US (retail)

The Good
  • "In-Air" or desktop capability

  • NiMH battery with good life

  • Radio link, not infra red

  • Plug and play with Linux

The Bad
  • Slightly pricey

  • Sometimes finicky with X

What Makes a Gyromouse Fly?

Pick it up off the table. Squeeze the trigger on the bottom and tilt your wrist slightly. The cursor instantly follows your every movement. It's accurate, wireless and projects the ultimate in techno appeal. It's an Ultra GT Gyromouse.

The Gyromouse, by Gyration, is an ultra high-tech pointing device, and it's the best thing to happen to mice since wireless. In fact, it is a wireless (proprietary RF) optical mouse with little gyroscopes that sense your hand motion. You hold the trigger button on the bottom and wave the Gyromouse around to move the cursor. Sit it on the desktop, and it magically becomes an optical desktop mouse.

My in-air mousing started several weeks ago, when the Gyromouse/Compact Keyboard suite appeared in a retailer's Sunday newspaper insert. The price, $119.95 US or about $88 US after rebates, was a little steep perhaps. But because I'm a Linux-only kind of guy who lugs around a 5-year-old 300MHz PII laptop and recycles ancient Pentiums for my Linux Lab, I thought I could splurge a little. The package came with the mouse, compact keyboard, RF receiver (USB), charger and software (for Windows). Naturally, I had no need for the software.

Several models of the mouse/keyboard suite are available in retail land. A quick call to Gyration confirmed that the 30-foot version (average distance the mouse can be used) was the latest consumer model. The early model is distinguished by its 25-foot range. Mega-dollar presentation pros might opt for the Gyromouse professional model with its 100-foot wireless capability and $180 price tag.

Installing the Gyromouse with Linux

Installing the mouse and keyboard couldn't be easier. They both worked out of the box on one of my ancient Pentium desktops with SuSE 8.0 Linux Pro. I did have to edit several lines in my /etc/X11/XF86Config file so the Gyromouse would work with my 300MHz PII laptop, however. Specifically, I added an InputDevice section for the USB mouse.

Section "InputDevice"
  Driver       "mouse"
  Identifier   "USB mouse"
  Option       "ButtonNumber" "5"
  Option       "Device" "/dev/input/mouse0"
  Option       "Name" "AutoDetected"
  Option       "Protocol" "imps/2"
  Option       "Vendor" "AutoDetected"
  Option       "ZAxisMapping" "4 5"
  Option       "resolution" "250"
EndSection

The imps/2 line makes the wheel on the Gyromouse work.

I also commented out the PS/2 line and added a USB line in the ServerLayout section.

#  InputDevice  "PS/2 mouse" "CorePointer"
  InputDevice  "USB mouse" "CorePointer"

This setup lets me plug in my wired PS/2 mouse and simply switch the # character on the two lines, in case I run out of mouse battery power or something.

You should be aware that if you've turned on your machine and forgotten to plug in the USB receiver, you occasionally have to restart X. Linux recognizes the device, but X doesn't respond to the mouse movements and your cursor just sits there. In this case, simply CTL-ALT-Backspace to crash out of X and restart. Usually, though, I can turn on the mouse and keyboard, start the laptop and it works fine. It doesn't happen often enough for me to bother making it 100% predictable.

Setting the Feel

You might want to tweak some desktop and XF86Config file settings to get the most comfortable response from the Gyromouse. Start by going into your XF86Config file and playing around with the InputDevice resolution value, under the USB mouse. Mine is set to 250. Larger values tend to make the mouse more sensitive to movement, making it hard to control the cursor when using the mouse in the air.

Next, in KDE go to the Preferences -> Peripherals -> Mouse menu and select the Advanced tab. The important values I use are 1X for the pointer acceleration and 1 pixel for the pointer threshold. High values in the pointer acceleration make the mouse almost totally uncontrollable on my machine. You may have to juggle these values to get the best feel.

Getting the Feel

Let's talk about in-air technique. I should have had the video camera going the first time I picked up the Gyromouse--I definitely was a geek looking doofy. I picked up the mouse and squeezed the trigger button. I started waving the thing around, and the cursor went from one side of the screen to the other. It was a little tough to move the cursor and then release the trigger.

After a few minutes I got the hang of it. Double-clicking the trigger keeps the move function engaged, but don't unleash this feature in a presentation unless you've practiced for a while. Everyone in the audience will think you've had 14 cups of coffee, because the cursor will be shaking all over the place.

The best way I've found to use the Gyromouse in-air is to hold the mouse in my right hand (I'm right-handed) and brace it against my right hip, with my thumb and pinky finger resting lightly against my hip bone. I then can hold the trigger button down and swivel the mouse in the direction that I want the cursor to go. I also can release the trigger at the end of the stroke, move my wrist back to the beginning position, pull the trigger and move again if I need to go further. At the same time, my thumb can click the left or right button and spin the wheel, without too much effort.

Using the mouse on the desktop is natural, like any other optical desktop mouse, except that you absolutely don't miss the mouse cable. Now that you're up to speed on setting up and using the Gyromouse, let's see how we can use it effectively on your Linux machine.

Air-Mousing with OOo Impress

By far, the best use of the Gyromouse is during OpenOffice.org presentations. Doing presentations while un-tethered from the laptop gives the presenter much more opportunity to connect with his audience.

During a recent presentation for AITP (Association of Information Technology Professionals), I found myself running my show from the middle of the room at the projector table. I didn't want to stretch a huge VGA cable across the floor to the lectern, so I had the laptop sitting on the table with the projector. This setup made it hard to face the audience all at once, however. Sure, I was out there in the audience, but for part of the time my back was to one section or another. Fortunately, the audience was gracious and didn't grumble much. This kind of problem is no more, now that I can take the mouse and keyboard anywhere in the room.

Don't forget that geek appeal factor during a technical presentation. People generally look at presenters as experts. Believe me, using cutting-edge technology, such as the Gyromouse, absolutely enhances the expert image.

Ether Surfing

How does it work for everyday Web browsing? As a writer, I scan many, many Web pages during the day searching for things. I read daily news sites, vendor pages, other articles and so on. Anything that can speed up the process means I can get down to my real job--writing.

Using the Gyromouse makes life much easier when I have to cruise through all those pages. The in-air mousing capability reduces my movements as opposed to pushing a regular mouse around the desktop, and it lets me fly through pages at twice my normal speed.

Everyday Uses

The product is right at home on the desktop. It is completely optical and senses patterns on whatever surface the mouse happens to be sitting. When you need to go airborne, simply pick it up and it automatically starts moving the cursor when you pull the trigger button. It is a little awkward at first, mousing in air and clicking with the thumb and then mousing on the desktop and clicking with the finger, but you get used to it.

I've even started using the compact keyboard with my laptop. It sounds funny, but I like the feel of the Gyromouse keyboard much better than my old laptop keyboard. Plus, it lets me back away from the LCD a little bit. Now that I'm over 40, doing this helps me focus on the screen better. It's also easy to put the keyboard on my lap and lean back in my chair.

Another way I've effectively used the Gyromouse is with x2x, my laptop and two other Linux lab machines. x2x lets you use one keyboard and mouse to control all three machines, kind of like an X-based KVM. Simply wave/roll the mouse over to the left monitor and you have control of that screen. Wave/roll it to the middle monitor and you can type there. The same goes for the right-hand monitor. Couple that setup with the wireless Gyromouse/keyboard combination, and a sysadmin could clear two keyboards and mice off his or her desk. You even could work standing up for a change of pace. And I haven't even started exploring the possibilities with multi-headed displays.

For you war drivers out there, the Gyromouse works pretty well in the car, because it doesn't need a surface to roll around on. The only drawback I've had is that when I put it down to punch on the keyboard, it sometimes moves the cursor as the optical sensors become active.

Performance/Range

Performance has been excellent with the mouse and keyboard. The cursor response is practically instantaneous. The adjustments I mentioned earlier should help with any changes you might want to make.

As for range, my daughter thought it was funny when I told her to watch the screen while I went to the other end of the house and typed in a message. The mouse seemed to move the cursor pretty well, too. That's about 40 feet, through normal residential walls.

I did an OOo Impress presentation recently for the Melbourne Linux User Group. The meeting was held in a warehouse-type room, and I think the steel/sheet rock walls caused some reflections of the radio waves. The cursor started acting funny when I was about 30 feet away from the laptop, so I just moved a little closer.

I've also tested the range in a large room at the local library, and the best I could get was about 100 feet. I received a few strange looks, too, as I peered at the laptop screen through binoculars while I waved the mouse around.

As for battery life, never fear, the mouse has a NiMH battery and a charger. I've used my mouse for eight hours on a full charge. If you can get in the habit of putting the mouse in its charger during lunch or dinner, it always is ready. You can buy a spare battery, too, if you feel as though you'll forget to charge before a presentation. The compact keyboard uses four AAA-sized batteries, and it's been running strong for almost a month.

Take Your Own Test Flight

I'd recommend the Gyromouse and compact keyboard suite to any desktop or laptop Linux user. Put it with an LCD monitor and a small form factor desktop box, and you can have your workspace back. Give it a try, I think you'll wonder why you didn't get one sooner.

Rob Reilly (robreilly@earthlink.net) is a technology writer and speaker whose articles appear in LinuxToday.com, NewsForge.com and PC Update magazine. He offers professional writing and seminar services on Linux desktop applications, portable computing and presentation technology. Visit his Web site at home.earthlink.net/~robreilly.

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