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The 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator

2012/02/18

I was very interested in exploring the 3Dconnexion SpaceNavigator (http://www.3dconnexion.com) after reading about its use in camera-control in three-dimensional Virtual Reality sites.  It was published that sites like Second Life (http://www.secondslife.com) has enhanced their viewer to provide “joystick” support based upon the SpaceNavigator, and three-dimensional modeling packages, like the well-known Blender open-source product, were more effectively used with this kind of “joystick”.

After poking around eBay for two months, I decided the savings possible there were not worth the risk of second- and third=party sales, so I purchased the SpaceNavigator directly through Amazon.com, at a price just a shade more than the “discounters”.  The mouse was on my doorstep two days later.  That’s the new definition of instant gratification.

I use an IOGEAR KVM/USB Switch to share peripherals between my MacOSX and Fedora 16 systems, and I’d hoped this would be able to be switched.  Initial indications are the Fedora 16 driver is a little rough.  Under Fedora 16, there are many postings suggesting the 3Dconnexion driver is to be avoided, and the two open-source version in the Fedora repository are preferred.  I tried both, but was only able to make progress with the spacenavd version.  That version supports the expected systemctl command, including enable, disable, start, stop and restart.  I was able to see the driver output in /var/log, so I knew it was responding.  It does expect to see the SpaceNavigator connected, so maybe switching isn’t a great idea.  But I was never able to get the 2.4n version of Blender to see it.  The driver was producing a complaint about X11 and the 0.0 display, so I might have some basic configuration work to complete there.

The progress was better on MacOSX, as is often the case.  After installing the 3Dconnexion driver, Blender just worked.  I could spin around the default cube very quickly and smoothly, and all the expected zoom and pan controls were there.  I’m not an expert with Blender, really a novice at this point, but it seems an order of magnitude faster and flexible than the standard scroll mouse.

Using 3D viewers, like FireStorm for SecondLife, was not so great out of the box.  An avatar would jump and fly and disappear while you just tried to look around you.  But, the right-button brings up the system-level configuration and one or two clicks and things were better.  There are common “swaps” of behavior on the first two configuration screens, and those changes made a world of difference.  I quickly understood why you would have a profile for Blender, Maya and other applications.  Otherwise, you will forget.  Well, at least I will.

So, this test was partially successful.  I have it working like I want it under MacOSX.  I’m disappointed with it’s functionality under Fedora 16, but I haven’t given up.  I will work through those issues and post an update before next month (if things go well).

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