2014-01-19

The Quest For The Lost Pointer

On the screen you have a pointer - it points at thing!  It is used to point at, select [highlight], drag, and numerous other things.  The mouse pointer has been there and looked more-or-less the same for decades now;  my pointer in GNOME Shell looks and works almost identically to the pointer I had on my GEOS desktop (1986).  It has stayed the same because it works.

But the pointer has a few new challenges - (1) displays are getting bigger and bigger, big displays are aggregated together [you would have to have been very wealthy in 1986 to do that] and (2) the DPI/resolution of displays are now soaring to ridiculous and pointless values [not that the pointlessness suppresses the squeals of geeker joy from tech fanboys and fangirls].   These two trends raise the problem - "where the @*&# is the pointer?!".  You look away from your vast panorama of high-DPI displays for just a moment... and then you have to find it again.

GNOME Shell provides two features that assist in the quest for the missing pointer.

The first is "Show location of pointer".  This is most easily accessed via the GNOME Tweak Tool and is located in the "Keyboard and Mouse" section.  Simply toggle the feature on.  Once the feature is enabled tapping either Ctrl key [alone, by itself, not in combination with any other key] will cause the pointer to strobe;  the location will immediately be apparent. 

As with any setting you can also manage it using the GSettings API or using the gsettings command line tool.  The path to the relevant key for "Show location of pointer" is "org.gnome.settings-daemon.peripherals.mouse/locate-pointer".  To enable this feature from the command line:

$ gsettings set org.gnome.settings-daemon.peripherals.mouse locate-pointer true
$ gsettings get org.gnome.settings-daemon.peripherals.mouse locate-pointer
true
The second setting is not available for modification in GNOME Tweak Tool or the standard control center.  This is probably due the fact that you can render your desktop almost useless via senseless modification of this value.  This second feature is the ability to adjust the size of the pointer - so for very high DPI displays you can increase the size of the pointer.  You can also scale it down to where you cannot see the pointer at all [and if you do that, no, the software is not "broken"; the correct way to describe that condition is to say that the operator is "careless"].  The relevant setting is "org.gnome.desktop.interface/cursor-size".

$ gsettings get org.gnome.desktop.interface cursor-size
24
$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface cursor-size 36
$ gsettings get org.gnome.desktop.interface cursor-size
36

The appropriate value is an integer - so look at the current value and tweak it up or down until you find a comfortable pointer size.  You will notice that the change to a gsetting is immediate; there is not need to log-out or restart GNOME Shell.

If the command line is too intimidating for you - you can also adjust either of these configuration parameters, and a myriad of others, using the excellent dconf-editor GUI.  For most parameters dconf-editor even provides a bit of documentation, the range of appropriate values, and the general-purpose default.

Now you never need to hunt for the pointer; you can spend more time hunting the whumpus.

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