BOOT CAMP ARCHIVE 1998

  

 

BOOT CAMP 010

PLUG INS

Although your PC came with a mouse don’t think you’re stuck with it, there are plenty of other ways of moving the pointer around the screen, and making things happen. In fact you don’t even need a mouse at all, which is worth knowing if your rodent expires or suddenly stops moving. On the Windows 95 desktop, and in most programs you can select icons or menu items by pressing the ‘Alt’ or ‘Tab’ keys on the keyboard, then move through the selections using the cursor arrows and confirm a choice with the enter/return key. 

It’s also possible to move the mouse pointer from the keyboard. Some Windows 95 keyboards have the facility already built-in, otherwise it can be enabled from the Accessibility icon in Control Panel. Click on the mouse tab – assuming your mouse is still working – check the ‘Use Mousekeys’ box and then the Settings buttons. There you will find a second check box for the keyboard shortcut, that will allow you to switch between the mouse and keyboard mouse control using the numerical keypad.

Nowadays mice come in all sorts of weird and wonderful shapes so if you find yours uncomfortable or difficult to use it’s worth trying a few others for size. Don’t forget, if the pointer moves too quickly you can slow it down to a sedate crawl. Just click on the mouse icon in Control Panel, select the Motion tab and adjust the speed slider to suit.

Most PC mice have two buttons; some have three but don’t let that bother you. Very few applications make use of the centre button, and those that do normally provide a keyboard alternative. Wheel mice are a relatively new innovation; the wheel or roller makes it easier to scroll through long documents and switch between open applications. They’re a boon for word processing, especially on fast multimedia PCs, where high-speed graphics make it difficult to move copy and paste blocks of text.

A standard mouse is fine for most applications but they do have their limitations. For those with joint and muscle disorders or limited movement in their hands they can be difficult to use. A trackball is the best alternative, they’re a bit like a large upside down mouse, they remain stationary, whilst the user moves a large ball. They can be a bit tricky at first, especially if you’re used to a mouse, but once you get used to it, they can be fast and accurate. Trackballs take up less space too, which can be an advantage on a crowded desktop but they are dearer than an ordinary mouse, the cheapest models cost from around £40 upwards.

It is very difficult to draw accurately with a mouse. Most designers and artists prefer to use a graphics tablet, also known as digitising pads or bitpads. A hand-held stylus, in contact with a touch sensitive pad controls cursor movement and menu selections. For a lot of people it’s a far more natural way to draw and manipulate images. The smallest graphics tablets are about the size of a paperback book with a footprint the size of a sheet of A5 paper; serious models are between A4 and A2. Prices start at less than £100 and rise quickly to several thousand pounds for professional models.

Touchpads or Glidepoints are a common feature on laptop PCs and effectively miniature graphics tablets. Pointer motion is controlled by finger movement on a small touch-sensitive pad. They’re now available as alternatives to a mouse or trackball, though like graphics tablets and trackballs they cost a good deal more and you can expect to pay at least £45 for one.

Virtually all pointing devices plug into the standard mouse port or serial communications socket, so they are very easy to fit. Standard mouse driver software is included in Windows 95, but more elaborate and exotic devices usually come with their own drivers on a floppy disc. Windows 95 should detect a new non-standard mouse as soon as it is plugged in though you may need to run the Install new Hardware utility in Control Panel, to configure it properly.

A joystick is almost mandatory to play most new PC action games, you may be able to use a mouse and keyboard instead but they’re a very poor substitute. Joysticks have their own dedicated connector called a Gameport; it’s often incorporated into the PC’s sound card, on the back of the main box. Joysticks are enabled from the Game Controller icon in Control panel. Windows 95 has a good selection of driver software included as standard, however many joysticks come with their own installation software. If your model isn’t included simply click on the ‘add’ button on the Game Controller window and follow the instructions.

Game controllers come in a bewildering range of styles; dedicated game-players fiercely debate their relative merits, but for most people comfort is more important than fancy features, which relatively few games or software packages may support. Force-feedback is a case in point where the joystick moves or vibrates under the influence of small servos built into the base of the joystick, controlled by the game software.

 

Racing car game and flight simulation aficionados’ favour highly specialised controls, to make their game-play feel even more authentic. They include steering wheels, control yolks, even handlebars, and for added realism they can be combined with pedals and rudder bars. Needless to say they’re also expensive, a good Formula 1 steering wheel and pedal set will set you back the thick end of  £150!

JARGON FILTER

Driver

Drivers are small programs that tell Windows 95 how to communicate with a particular piece of hardware, like a mouse, joystick or printer

Gameport

A 15-pin female connector socket designed exclusively for joysticks and other control devices

High Speed Graphics

Multimedia computers are great for fast action games but they can actually be too quick for applications like word processors. When scrolling through a document the display can move so fast that it’s almost impossible to read the text

 

TOP TIP

You will often find that you want to change the volume of your PC’s sound system, however the volume control is not very accessible on a standard Windows 95 installation. Normally most users get to it via the View menu option in CD Player, (Start – Programs – Accessories – Multimedia – CD Player – View – Volume Control), but there’s a quicker way, and you can have it permanently on the taskbar if you so wish.

From the Start menu click on Settings, then Control Panel and the Multimedia icon. Click on it and select the Audio tab. About halfway down there’s a small box marked Show Volume Control on the Taskbar. Check the box and it’s done. On the far left side of the taskbar you will see a small loudspeaker symbol; when you click on it a volume slider and mute switch will appear on the screen.

Incidentally, it’s a good idea to put the CD Player on the Start menu, if you’re in the habit of playing audio CDs on your PC. From the Start menu click on Settings then Taskbar and select the Start Menu Programs tab. Click on the Add then Browse buttons and look for the Windows folder. Double click on it to open it up then move the horizontal slider along until the CD Player icon appears. Highlight it, click open, then next and select the Start Menu folder at the top of the file tree. To complete click next and then Finish. 

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