Can’t Deactivate Trackpad in Leopard — A (Lame) Workaround

Almost a year ago, I became a “switcher” — someone who abandons the PC and Windows for the Macintosh and Mac OS. I joined the party as of the “Leopard” release of Mac OS X. I have dutifully installed the Leopard point releases as they have come along. The release notes haven’t told me much, and after the first leap of faith worked out fine, I just kept on installing the updates. Two weeks ago, I installed the 10.5.7 update, and for the first time, I was sorry I had updated.

I have to believe this is a bug — someone at Apple has to have goofed, because what they did with the trackpad is just plain dumb. You used to be able to deactivate the trackpad while an external (in my case, USB) mouse was connected. As someone whom Mavis Beacon would flunk for poor typing technique, I tend to lean on the trackpad when I don’t mean to, which causes unintentional clicks and selections. At times whole new windows appear and disappear mid-sentence, and I have no clue what I leaned on to cause this. My best solution was simply to disable the trackpad when I had another mouse to work with.

The ability to deactivate the trackpad used to be a setting; at some point (I think 10.5.6, but I’m happy to stand corrected on that), the option disappeared because the capability was just built into the OS – connect a device, the trackpad deactivates. For me, perfection. With the 10.5.7 release, however, you CANNOT deactivate the trackpad. Connecting an external mouse doesn’t do it, nor can you find a setting for it. One clever forum poster suggested you could enable the accessibility feature “Mouse Keys” and thereby disable the trackpad — nopers. Other forum posters familiar with Leopard’s default system tried tinkering with the setting "com.apple.mouse.ignoreTrackpadIfMousePresent" = 1, but this setting is now ignored. I resolved to start looking for a PC to replace my Macbook Pro.

And then the obvious hit me. It was a Homer Simpson-esque “D’oh!!” moment. The trackpad has features. You may not be able to kill it, but certainly you can stop it from doing things, right? Right. When I looked at the trackpad settings, I saw this:
Trackpad1

All I had to do was uncheck the boxes for Tap to click and Dragging. I ended up with this:
Trackpad2

For me, this solves the problem. When I sloppily lean on the trackpad, the cursor still moves, but the trackpad cannot cause a click or a drag to occur. So, where my next typed character gets inserted cannot be altered. (I guess if you were running X11 and had enabled the setting to give focus to a window once the mouse enters it, my workaround would not solve your problems. I personally abandoned that X11 setting in 1989, but I digress….)

When I disconnect my external mouse and really want to use the trackpad, it still works for moving the mouse cursor. I can’t tap the trackpad to click, though — I have that feature disabled. I can either re-enable that feature through settings, or I can just hit the (too large to ever miss) button. I use the button — tapping is less comfy for me anyway.

Disgruntled users have discussed this “feature” in 10.5.7 in this Apple discussions thread. I’ll be following the thread to see if anyone learns whether Apple intended this feature change or just goofed.

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