The IBM Track Point

The TrackPoint is a pointing device that's normally integrated into a keyboard. The device is a small pressure-sensitive stick with a rubber coating that protrudes between the G, H, and B keys. To move the pointer on the screen, you touch the TrackPoint device on the opposite side. For instance, to move the pointer left, you touch the right side of the TrackPoint. In this sense, the TrackPoint resembles the usual operation of a joystick. The TrackPoint differs from a joystick in three important ways, however:

• The TrackPoint doesn't move in response to the pressure you apply to it; only the onscreen pointer moves.

• The TrackPoint is positioned in the middle of the keyboard, which makes it unusually easy to manipulate if you're a touch typist who doesn't like moving your hand from the home row.

• The TrackPoint is much smaller than a joystick. In order to nestle in-between three keyboard keys, it must be smaller than those keys.

Like a touch pad, a TrackPoint has no moving parts and is resistant to dirt. Because it operates on pressure, it doesn't suffer from the sometimes erratic behavior that's common on touch pads. Like a trackball, a TrackPoint doesn't suffer from edge effects—there's no need to lift your finger and reposition it when you come to the device's edge, as you might have to do with a touch pad or mouse.

Despite these advantages, some people find TrackPoints to be awkward to use or difficult to control. The integration of the TrackPoint into a keyboard means that you might not get the optimum keyboard if you want to use a TrackPoint device. As with other pointing technologies, I recommend you try one before you buy it. Even if you're considering a TrackPoint-enabled keyboard for a desktop system, it might be easier to try the device on a notebook computer. IBM and Toshiba models are particularly likely to use TrackPoints.

IBM originally marketed a convertible mouse/trackball by the name TrackPoint. IBM subsequently sold the device I've just described under the names TrackPoint II and TrackPoint III, and other manufacturers use other names. The name TrackPoint has come to be used in references to these devices, and I follow that convention here.

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