How to make your pen tablet work

Wacom and Aiptek pen tablets in Linux 

By Floor Anthoni (July 2007)
Many users have difficulties making their Wacom or Aiptek pen tablets work in Linux and Xandros. My story is no different, and it needs to be told. But the solution is not far away, and there are some work-arounds.

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The pen and tablet or stylus is an important tool for graphics artists, and once you've used one, you never want to go back to a mouse. The pen is simply far superior. So one would have thought that the Linux development teams would have paid ample attention to this kind of input device, particularly since few brands exist.

Both the Wacom (American) and Aiptek (Taiwan) wands satisfy the requirements of a mouse, and should work immediately as such, which both do, without any drivers. But a mouse gives relative co-ordinates, whereas wands give absolute co-ordinates. One would thus have expected that the Xorg committee, who specified the behaviour of the Xterminal (KVM= keyboard/video/mouse), would have defined basic behaviour of a pen. With that in hand, programmers could have implemented standard drivers. But this was omitted.

So we are now stuck with ad-hoc initiatives, of which the Wacom driver came first. Already since 2001 the first drivers became available, yet six years later, they have not been turned into a standardised package with standardised documentation - a clear example that an organisation like Debian is needed to get finished products out of the door with stringent quality assurance and milestones.

With the Wacom driver in the lead, one would have expected that the Aiptek driver would simply mimic the Wacom behaviour as a de-facto standard, so that at least we would have ended up with one driver, but instead a top-heavy design was started which again, did not produce installable packages.

I have a few gripes with Linux developers in general, and my main frustration is that these gurus serve themselves with the latest versions of module libraries, while also specifying that their work depends on these. In doing so, they force whoever installs their package, to upgrade a host of interdependent libraries, even when this is not strictly required.

So both the Wacom and Aiptek tablet drivers have become a sorry story, a blot on Linux, particularly since there is no doubt that recent versions should work fine. But who compiles the sources into working packages? The good news is that the situation may suddenly change for the better - just have patience. Remember though, that the manufacturers can't and won't help because of Microsoft's bullying.

Note! much ado has been made of tweaking the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, but after trying all the advice that is scattered over the Net, nothing really worked. In Xandros this file has already been prepared for the Wacom pen, and it may need to be adapted for Aiptek perhaps.

the Wacom tablet

The Wacom tablet is loosely (unenthusiastically) supported by Xandros, and Xandros Networks will tell you that version 0.6.6-7 is available, complete with kernel modules and toolbox. This loads and installs fine, but documentation and driver are out of step, and the xsetwacom tool gives error messages. All the same, it works - sort of. 
So, at this time we don't know what button1 or button3 is, and what values it can be set to. To get something meaningful out of the Wacom pen, The following commands make it work:
xsetwacom set stylus clickforce 15
xsetwacom set stylus button3 1
xsetwacom set stylus button2 3
Adjusting clickforce is the most important one.

These settings must be done automatically once the Xterminal starts up, and this is done by including these commands in /etc/X11/xinit/xinitrc but perhaps because of the error messages, this won't work satisfactorily.

# $Xorg:xinitrc.cpp,v 1.3 2000/08/17 19:54:30 cpqbld Exp $

# global xinitrc file, used by all X sessions started by xinit (startx)

xsetwacom set stylus clickforce 15
xsetwacom set stylus button3 1 
xsetwacom set stylus button2 3 

# invoke global X session script
. /etc/X11/Xsession

Web site:
Driver package: xserver-xorg-input-hyperpen_1.1.0-1_i386.deb  causes serious dependency problems.