New bits for my PC and VMWare

I decided to get a new keyboard and mouse. I was sick of the old Microsoft keyboard with function keys arranged in clusters of 3 and I thought I’d give a relatively recent mouse a try.

I chose to stick with wired peripherals. I didn’t need yet another set of batteries to worry about plus I didn’t want any more RF noise in the studio (there’s enough already).

I looked at lighted keyboards, mainly because I knew it was as as close as I’d be likely to get to an Optimus Maximus. I ended up going for the Saitek Eclipse II, not only for its lighting but because it was reportedly solidly built.

Saitek PurpleHere are some photos of it with its various colours. To me the lighting comes up better in photos than in real life, but it is a very comfortable keyboard to type on, hasn’t got a heap of useless “extra” keys (just minimal media controls), isn’t obnoxiously big like some of the illuminated gamer keyboards and perhaps most importantly, does not require any driver or helper applications for its media keys to work.Saitek Blue
The media keys are play-pause, stop, next and previous track, volume up and down and mute. The knob adjusts the brightness of the lighting.Saitek Red

For the mouse, I’d been using a 5 button dual scroll wheel A4Tech that I was generally happy with except the extra wheel and buttons were pretty useless when inside a virtual machine (you had to give focus to the host before they would be processed, even for VMWare CTRL-ALT commands).

Logitech MX400

The newest A4Tech model wasn’t easy to get so I decided on a Logitech MX400; 5 buttons and a tilt wheel instead of the second wheel. Its a laser mouse and it has excellent tracking. I really like the feel of it. Most surprisingly though are the drivers for it; they actually let me do useful things with the buttons even when the focus is within a VM. ( I later found the Logitech drivers even worked with the A4Tech mouse’s extra buttons).

I’ve set up the thumb button to send CTRL-ALT-Z. This is set up to toggle the hardware zoom of my Matrox Parhelia video card. With the focus inside a VM, this event gets eaten by VMWare. I have to give focus to the host with a CTRL-ALT first. I was able to set up one of the thumb buttons to do this.

My “CTRL-ALT” mouse button not only enables me to use the hardware zoom, but also use the keyboard’s media keys to control a Winamp on the host – all whilst the VM remains full screen. I’ve set up a different cursor scheme on the host so I can tell where the focus is.

I’ve set up the other thumb button to CTRL-ALT-ENTER which switches between window and fullscreen for VMWare. This is proving really useful as it lets me easily get to the host’s task bar.

I wasn’t sure what to do with the tilt wheel – then I realised I could assign it to CTRL-ALT-LEFT and CTRL-ALT-RIGHT which switch between the running virtual machines (of which I have at least 2). I’m really liking being able to do all this from the mouse.

The only issue I have with the mouse is that pressing the thumb button can easily trigger the tilt buttons instead if you are not pressing straight down. This is proving annoying any I might set the buttons up differently.

You might have noticed the Microsoft mouse mat. Its probably one of the longest lasting items Microsoft has put their name on. It came for free with a Mac+ that I bought – in 1986! Yes, its really 21 years old. Its outlasted a couple of other mats which peeled and lost their surface after a few years of use. I like it because its nice and thin, so my wrist doesn’t chaff on its edge. The fact that it came with a Mac plus the byline, “The High Performance Software” brings a smile.

A neat side effect I’ve found – if the VMWare host has focus and Winamp is playing on it, then mouse tilt left/right jumps back/forward in the currently playing songs instead of cycling VMs. This is cool because the keyboard doesn’t have cue/review media keys. You can still cycle VMs by keeping the focus in the VM.