Once you've used the hand-helping, time-saving, two-finger scrolling and three-finger gestures on a MacBook, a standard Windows trackpad can feel kind of, well, dead. Here's how to get total finger control with a tiny app, or go further with a driver swap.
Photo by Kai Hendry.
Let's put this out there right away: This won't give you the Mac's pinch-to-zoom or rotation powers, but it will give you nearly everything else. Also, I tested this out on just one laptop, a ThinkPad T61p, and the more complex version of this trick relies on unofficial — some might even say hacked — drivers for Synaptics touchpads. Most every non-Mac laptop ships with a Synaptics touchpad, and various bloggers and forum users with different laptop builds have reported it working. You may experience some quirks or buggy behaviour, such as having tap-to-click occasionally turning back on, in my case. But the benefits for those who do a lot of browsing or document editing are pretty significant.
If you only want simple two-finger scrolling in your web browser without having to mess with your touchpad drivers, follow this post through only the (very simple) first section. If you'd like to get configurable two-finger, three-finger, circular and gesture-based actions on your laptop, we'll dive into that in just a bit.
The Simple Two-Finger Scrolling Fix
Two-Finger-Scroll is a tiny little utility that doesn't require installation, configuration or anything really other than a double-click to launch. On most trackpads, running two-finger-scroll will simply make dragging two fingers up and down on your trackpad scroll a window with a vertical tracking bar up and down, as if you were moving the middle scroll wheel up and down.
If that vertical two-finger scrolling is all you want, and you want it to stick around the next time you restart Windows, check your system tray. It might be hidden away, but there should be a TwoFingerScroll icon that you can right-click to turn on and off, and right-click to select "Settings". In the settings, you can have TwoFingerScroll start with Windows, but you can also do a lot more. Check out the next tab, "Scrolling", where you can set up exactly how your two-finger scrolling should work. In my own case, I kept the speed and acceleration defaults, disabled "Keep scrolling on edges", and switched to "Smooth" for the Scroll Mode. I haven't really broken them in and figured out what exactly I like, because, hey, two-finger scrolling in Windows is entirely new to me.
Head to the next tab to the right, and you'll see that you can actually manage two and three-finger tapping from TwoFingerScroll. I haven't played with these features as much, but if your trackpad has a middle button function, or an equivalent "Button4" and "Button5", you can set a two, three or "two plus one" (two fingers together, one just outside) tap to do what those buttons would normally do. I could see these functions being helpful for quick right-clicking or, perhaps, triggering an Escape key or the like, but I've generally left this section well enough alone. If you know of some clever uses for multi-finger taps, do tell in the comments!
Sick of TwoFingerScroll, or not seeing it do much good? Disable it from the system tray and uninstall it the way you sould any program. If disabling temporarily doesn't seem to work, kill it by hitting Ctrl+Shift+Esc, selecting the Processes tab, and clicking End Process with TwoFingerScrolle.exe selected.
The Whole Shebang: Gestures, Three Fingers and More
Want to get a bit more in control of your scrolling, and add features like circular scrolls and three-finger swipes and gestures? You'll need to install a modified version of the Synaptics drivers your laptop likely uses.
Uninstall your existing Synaptics drivers, or the touchpad/trackpad drivers your laptop manufacturer provided, by heading to Control Panel, selecting "Uninstall a program" under the Programs heading, and removing those choices that relate to your trackpad control. You can also use an app like Revo Uninstaller Free to hunt down those drivers if they don't appear, or are hard to discern, in your Add/Remove Programs dialog. You might have to restart after your uninstall, and it might be the first of a few restarts.
To get multi-finger gestures on your trackpad, you're going to install a set of trackpad drivers that were intended for a certain netbook in a foreign locale, but which have been modified for more general use. The drivers I installed on my ThinkPad came from a packaged dubbed synaptics_v10.2.4.0_allOS_modded_b2.zip, and I grabbed them from a file sharing service linked at the My Digital Life blog, where you can also find 64-bit specific drivers, if needed. If that free file hosting service doesn't work for you, or you want to try and avoid the annoying 60-second download delay, run a Google search for that package, and be sure to scan the download ZIP file for viruses before you install it.
Extract the files from the ZIP package you downloaded, double-click the Setup file to start the installation process, and if you're asked to verify that you want to install an "untrusted" or unverified driver, go ahead and do so. Once you're through the setup process, you'll likely be asked to restart once again. Allow your system to restart. When you boot up again, you may be asked if you're sure you want to allow programs related to your Synaptics driver installation to run on your system, seeing as how they were downloaded from the internet and all. Un-check the boxes in the lower-left that ask something akin to "Always ask for this type of file", and you won't see these prompts on your next start-up.
Open a browser, or a document with enough vertical content to scroll up and down, and see what happens when you slide two fingers up or down. If you're scrolling, hey, that's great! If not, you may still need to install TwoFingerScroll to manually enable your own two-finger scrolling.
Now, the good stuff. Head to Control Panel, into the "Hardware and Sound" section, and select "Mouse". The farthest-right tab should have a red icon and read "Device Settings". Make sure Synaptics Touchpad is selected in that tab, then hit the "Settings" button below it. You'll see a whole realm of options there to explore and customise. The new stuff that you'll want to pay close attention to is in a few places:
- Under Pointer Motion, a selection named Sticky Borders, which controls what happens when you scroll to the edges of a window.
- Virtual Scrolling, where you may want to turn off the edge-of-trackpad scrolling that you'd been using before.
- Under the Pointer Motion heading, a sub-section named Momentum, which provides Apple-like scrolling based on scroll speed.
- Three-Finger Gestures and its sub-sections, Top and Bottom, which relate to what happens when you drag three fingers up or down, respectively. I prefer to use these gestures as page back and forward in a browser.
- Two-Finger Gestures, where you can get fancy and add actions to diagonal drags, left-to-right and right-to-left flicks, and the like.
To repeat what was stated up top, you won't find any pinch-to-zoom or rotate gestures — at least on the laptop I was using. Your mileage may vary, but that doesn't seem to be something that made the transition to these modified drivers.
What do these features look like in action? Synaptics provides video demonstrations on Vimeo, the majority of which have been helpfully embedded at My Digital Life's post. Here are two examples from that collection:
ChiralScroll for vertical scrolling
Three fingers down
As with the simple TwoFingerScroll, removing this functionality from your laptop and getting back to your old controls is fairly easy — uninstall the Synaptics package you installed from either Windows Control Panel or Revo Uninstaller, then grab your default package from Windows Update or your laptop manufacturer's drivers page.
I've only just begun to play with multi-finger controls on my Windows laptop, but I'm already feeling both more productive and less jealous of MacBook owners. Given multitouch on Windows a try? Found some useful settings for your scrolls and gestures? Share with us all in the comments!