Using xbindkeys for Trackball Button Awesomeness

The Musing

About a year or two ago, I began using a trackball – I said I would never use a trackball, but whatever. Specifically, I began using the Logitech M570. It took a while to get used to it, but after the initial break-in period, I’m pretty good with it.

I use synergy (I donate – you should, too) to manage multiple computers from my M570 and Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 (I’ve been hooked on the curved keyboard for a decade and a half, now), but I never utilized the extra buttons on the M570.

To minimize jumping back and forth from the keyboard to the trackball, I went on a mission to both distract myself from work, and also conquer this most important problem.

After some quick Googling about how to map mouse buttons in Fedora 21, I came across a few sites like this one and this one. It looked like it was possible using xte from xautomation, xev from xorg-x11-utils, and xbindkeys.

I used dnf to install those packages, then I used xev to find out the IDs of my trackball buttons (mine were 8 and 9). I decided to map those buttons to the Home and End keys, but when coupled with the Ctrl key, they would act like Ctrl-Page Up and Ctrl-Page Down.

Why those keys?

I chose Home and End, because the trackball wheel conquers Page Up/Down pretty well in a browser or terminal window, but sometimes I want to go to the top/bottom of a long page quickly; Home/End send like a logical choice.

I use Ctrl-Page Up/Down to switch tabs in gnome-terminal and Firefox, so having that ability without switching my right hand to the keyboard seemed to make sense.

The Fix

First, I installed the necessary packages on Fedora with

sudo dnf -y install xbindkeys xautomation

I generated the defaults .xbindkeysrc file with

xbindkeys --defaults > $HOME/.xbindkeysrc

then commented out all of those lines and added this:

# Page Down
"xte 'keydown Home' 'keyup Home'"

# Page Up
"xte 'keydown End' 'keyup End'"

# Toggle tabs left
"xte 'keydown Page_Up' 'keyup Page_Up'"
control + b:9

# Toggle tabs right
"xte 'keydown Page_Down' 'keyup Page_Down'"
control + b:8

I started xbindkeys and it worked! Not the first time of course, but when does that ever happen? I had to tweak a bit to get the above additions to .xbindkeysrc.

Then I wanted to make sure that xbindkeys started on boot – that was harder than I imagined. I used the gnome-tweak-tool to add the application to startup, after adding a xbindkeys.desktop file to ~/.config/autostart/. It looks like:

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=Start these up at login

And that was it! Not a big task, but – if I can train myself to use them – could prove to be a time saver and increase my productivity. Of course, not spending an hour or so implementing this fix might’ve improved my productivity, too!


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