Netbooks, Linux, and The "Jumping Cursor"

120studio.com
April 2013


M
aking photographs in the Digital Age usually means storing them on a computer at some point, even if those photographs begin life as slides, negatives, or instant prints.

Dealing with large image files can require substantial memory and processing power, but sometimes portability takes precedence.  One thing I don't like about touchscreen computers, such as the iPad, is the lack of a traditional keyboard and mouse.  Yes, you can get these accessories, but they're non-native, and many people find the keyboard inadequate.

A couple years ago I really liked the idea of the Netbook, not because the keyboard is "adequate" (it sort of isn't), but because it was the smallest "real computer" on the market.  I know that's sort of a loosely-defined concept, but the Netbook has much more in common with laptops than it does with iPads, iPhones, and Blackberries.  I still like Netbooks, which is why I've written this article. 

A family member got an Asus Eeepc, and that's when I found that it was basically too slow to run Windows 7.   "No problem," said I, "I'll put Linux on it for you." 

That's when the maddening "jumping cursor" problem started. 

Actually, it was probably happening in Windows, too, but I deleted the Windows installation before I really had the chance to test it.  (Yeah that's kind of where I'm at in my opinion of Windows...)  I do know that when you do get the "jumping cursor" in Windows, it's actually easier to disable it with software.  In Linux, it seems no one had a concise, easy solution.  I found that even when typing without getting anywhere near the pad, it would still make the cursor jump.  It would select text, delete it as you typed, and jumble up your work.  Does anyone remember the Windows Keypanic Trojan from a decade ago?   The "jumping cursor problem" is even more annoying than that.  Worst of all, there is no way to disable the touchpad in the system BIOS.  You must either disable it in the operating system, or else be stuck with it.

Here's how to fix it.  First, get a USB optical mouse.  You're going to need it, because you're going to disable the touchpad.  I know you can mess around with ACPI scripts so the touchpad still works when you're not typing, but I didn't feel like dealing with that.  No one seemed to have a concise fix that worked for all systems, anyway. 

Here's my solution.  You're going to blacklist the "psmouse" module.  That's because the touchpad loads as a PS/2 mouse.  (On some systems, the module may be called "psaux" rather than "psmouse".  Use  lsmod | grep -i ps  to find out which.)  Either way, if you can make it so the PS/2 module doesn't load, then there's no touchpad, and there's no problem.

If you have downloaded and installed the package "eeepc-acpi-scripts", you should have a file called   
   /etc/modprobe.d/eeepc.conf

Edit this file (as superuser) in your favorite text editor.  For example,

   su -c vi /etc/modprobe.d/eeepc.conf

You will see some modules already blacklisted.  Using the editor, add the line

   blacklist psmouse

and save the file.  Since you can't reload the kernel without restarting the system, you can stop the touchpad right now by going into a console (as superuser) and typing

   modprobe -r psmouse

The changes you made in eeepc.conf will take effect next time you restart the computer.  That way you won't have to keep using the modprobe command.


If There Is No "eeepc.conf"

You can still blacklist kernel modules.  This method is described in the Debian wiki ("Debian Eeepc HowTo").

First make sure you don't have the file /etc/modprobe.conf.  If you do, add a line that says

/etc/modprobe.d/ 

This will tell modprobe.conf to look in that directory.


Then go into /etc/modprobe.d/ and make a new file called blacklist-psmouse.  (The file should have permissions 644.)  On my system, the file is called blacklist-psmouse.conf. (Notice the ".conf" file extension. Check what extension, if any, the comparable files have in /etc/modprobe.d. Then, use the same one.)

To the new file, add the line

   blacklist psmouse

and save the file.  From the command line, type

   depmod -a

as superuser.  When that's done, type

   update-initramfs -u

also as superuser.  Restart the sytem, or do modprobe -r psmouse and just restart later.


From now on, you will have to use a USB optical mouse.  For most people that is not a problem.  Actually, I never could stand those touchpad devices anyway.  Many people don't realize it, but way back in the days of the Apple II computer, there was a device called Koala Pad that acted much like a modern touchpad, except that it was strictly a drawing tool.  Once in a while the cursor would jump and mess up your whole drawing.   The touchpads on laptops are much worse, because they're smaller and flakier.  Progress!

If for some unknown reason you want to re-enable the touchpad, go back into the file and comment out the "blacklist psmouse" by putting a # symbol at the beginning of it.

If you successfully unloaded the PS/2 mouse module, the touchpad should stop working.  The USB optical mouse (you did attach one, right?) will still be working.  Now you can surf the internet, type stuff, and work at your lap desk without being driven to distraction by that awful jumping cursor. 

Even with Gnome, a Linux installation doesn't eat up as much RAM or processing power as would Windows 7 or Vista.  Once you fix the jumping cursor problem, the Linux "Netbook" is actually a great little computer.    That annoying touchpad messes with the keyboard so badly that many people gave up on netbooks altogether, so when you read reviews for these things, keep that in mind.

Netbooks are still underpowered for editing the really hi-res film scans, but they are great for storing and viewing photos of moderate resolution (say, 2500 pixels on the longer side).  The newer mini-laptop computers, which have better processing power and more RAM, have trended toward 11.5" screens rather than the smaller netbook-sized ones.  However, the "jumping cursor" problem can conceivably happen with any laptop.  Now, you know how to fix it in Linux, as long as you know the touchpad is loading as a PS/2 mouse.  On most laptops, it should be.

If you found this article helpful, you can help me by shopping through the links on this website.  You can pick up a Netbook through this link, or you could get a Chromebook through any of the links shown below.


         

In any case, I'd probably wipe the existing OS and put Linux on it. The Chrome OS is actually based on Linux, but it's entirely Web-based and doesn't have *any* of the client-side features I'd look for. But if you're strictly into Internet-based services (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, web browsing), then Chrome OS could be your system.

Anyway, if you use any of these links to buy your stuff, it helps me keep this site going, even if you're not from the USA. Much appreciated!

I hope you enjoy this site.  Thanks for visiting!




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