Linux: The Least Bad Synaptics Configuration for a MacBook Running Ubuntu

In my last post, Linux: My Mouse Ate My Homework!, I explained how dangerous it is to have a touchpad configuration that isn't finely tuned when you're running Ubuntu on a MacBook. For some reason, I've always been happy with the touchpad configuration under OS X, but I've never managed to set it up just right under Ubuntu. I spent three hours yesterday reading the synaptics man page (which is very well written, but not always helpful) and tweaking the settings.

In this post, I'm going to document the settings I came up with. I invite you to submit comments if you've found settings that feel more natural and are less likely to cause inadvertent mayhem. I'd be especially interested if you managed to get palm detection working.

First, start by creating /etc/hal/fdi/policy/appletouch.fdi as root:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?>

To learn more about this file: man 4 synaptics

Check for updates to this configuration here:


<deviceinfo version="0.2">
<match key="input.x11_driver" string="synaptics">

You need this turned on in order to run syndaemon. Once you have it turned on, you can run
"synclient -l" to look at your existing settings, and "synclient VAR=VAL" to change settings at runtime.
<merge key="input.x11_options.SHMConfig" type="string">true</merge>

<!-- Disable tapping. My palm always causes the context menu to pop up, and I hate that. -->
<merge key="input.x11_options.TapButton1" type="string">0</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.TapButton2" type="string">0</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.TapButton3" type="string">0</merge>

<!-- Set this to 30 and 40 if you want to have to press harder. -->
<merge key="input.x11_options.FingerLow" type="string">10</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.FingerHigh" type="string">30</merge>

<!-- This has to do with acceleration. It's a matter of taste. -->
<merge key="input.x11_options.AccelFactor" type="string">0.10</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.MaxSpeed" type="string">1.2</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.MinSpeed" type="string">0.5</merge>

2 fingers + click = right mouse button
3 fingers + click = middle mouse button
<merge key="input.x11_options.ClickFinger2" type="string">3</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.ClickFinger3" type="string">2</merge>

<!-- Set the speed of scrolling. -->
<merge key="input.x11_options.VertScrollDelta" type="string">20</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.HorizScrollDelta" type="string">20</merge>

You might want to disable one or the other of these. Of course, you'll need a multi-touch compatible
touchpad to use TwoFingerScroll.

<merge key="input.x11_options.VertTwoFingerScroll" type="string">false</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.HorizTwoFingerScroll" type="string">false</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.HorizEdgeScroll" type="string">false</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.VertEdgeScroll" type="string">false</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.HorizEdgeScroll" type="string">false</merge>
<merge key="input.x11_options.VertEdgeScroll" type="string">false</merge>

<!-- This never seems to work for me, but hopefully one day it might. -->
<merge key="input.x11_options.PalmDetect" type="string">1</merge>
Now, use System :: Preferences :: Startup Applications, and create a new startup item "syndaemon -d -t" and then reboot. Read the file above to learn how to tweak these settings at runtime once you've rebooted.


jjinux said…
By the way, my MacBook has hardware version 4,1.
jjinux said…

* Added Palm detection.
* Left some things to their default.
Brandon L. Golm said…
you're a sinner and we are no longer friends
jjinux said…
jjinux said…
Disabled horizontal and vertical edge scroll, although it doesn't appear to have made a difference.
jjinux said…
When you scroll on an empty background, it switches virtual desktops. There's a way to turn this out. I found it here:

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

System :: Preferences :: CompizConfig Settings Manager:

Viewport Switcher:

Desktop-based Viewport switching:

Disable Move Next and Move Prev.
Bob Van Zant said…
Reboot? Reboot!? JJ. Reboot!? Yikes :-)
jjinux said…
No way, dude! Suspend works under Linux on this Mac better than it's ever worked on any PC. I never want to reboot again!!!
dharmaurchin said…
even when I set TapButton1=0, synclient -l shows TapButton1=1.
This is the only TapButtonX I dont like.
I have restarted with both computer and modprobe -r appletouch.
Other settings in .fdi file have changed, just not TapButton1.

Can you help me? do you think something is overriding my appletouch.fdi file?

jjinux said…
I don't know anything specifically about TapButton1, but I do know that some settings get reset all the time, even when waking from sleep. VertEdgeScroll is like that. It doesn't matter what I set it to, I have to reset it everytime my computer wakes from sleep.

By the way, Ubuntu 9.10 is *much* nicer by default when it comes to the trackpad:
creativesumant said…
A while back I upgraded my Macbook to Ubuntu Feisty Fawn. The installation was extremely smooth, and everything just worked.

But I have tweaked my TrackPad configuration. Make sure to edit the ServerLayout section to use the MacBook Touchpad input device.

Recently I just came across a good article on "Linux"
Here is its link.