How to Control the Windows Desktop With an Xbox or Steam Controller

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If you have your PC set up as a living room gaming PC and media center, why use a mouse for everything when you could just use your game controller?

By default, Xbox controllers work well with many PC games, but it won’t allow you to navigate the desktop and play something from Netflix. But with some third party software, you can use an Xbox 360 or Xbox One controller as a mouse and keyboard. If you have one of Valve’s Steam controllers, it’ll work as a mouse and keyboard on your desktop with no additional tweaks required.

Xbox Controllers Require Additional Software

Related: How to Play PC Games on Your TV

Microsoft doesn’t include this feature by default for Xbox controllers, so you’ll need a software program that can make an Xbox controller function as a mouse and keyboard. Thankfully, there are a number of options. Gopher360 is a free and open source one, and it works without any additional configuration. The other applications here require some setup.

Just download and run Gopher360. It’s a lightweight application that “just works” when you run it.  Use the left-stick to move the mouse cursor, press the “A” button to left-click, and press the “X” button to right-click. The Gopher360 website lays out the key configuration in more detail.

If you want to use the Windows on-screen keyboard with it, you’ll need to right-click the Gopher360 application and select “Run as Administrator.” You can then use the Windows on-screen keyboard to type. To make it always run as administrator, you can right-click the Gopher.exe file, select “Properties,” select the “Compatability” tab, and activate the “Run this program as an administrator” option.

To launch the on-screen keyboard in Windows 10, you can right-click the taskbar and select “Show touch keyboard button.” You’ll then see a keyboard icon near your system tray. Click it using the controller and you’ll get an on-screen keyboard you can use for typing. It’s not ideal for large amounts of typing, but could come in handy if you want to quickly search Netflix for something.

Gopher360 will only function while it’s running and open in the background. To ensure it’s always functioning, you can place the Gopher.exe file in your computer’s Startup folder. Windows will automatically run when you log in.

Gopher360 isn’t your only choice, but it is our favorite. If you want to try something else, though, both JoyToKey and Xpadder are advanced game controller configuration tools, and each can be used to make the controller function as a mouse and keyboard. However, they require configurations and profiles, so they’re not quite as plug-and-play. JoyToKey is also shareware, so it’s not completely free.

If you’re willing to spend a bit of money, you might want to try Controller Companion, which is well-reviewed on Steam and costs $2.99. Designed for use with Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers, it’ll make your controller function as a mouse on the desktop. More interestingly, it includes a custom on-screen keyboard that some people might find more efficient than the native Windows on-screen keyboard.

Steam Controllers Just Work

If you have one of Valve’s Steam controllers, it will natively functions as a mouse and keyboard. As long as you have it connected to your PC, you can just use it on the windows desktop.

The right touchpad on the controller moves the cursor–you can even flick your finger across the touchpad and the cursor will continue moving. The right shoulder button performs a left-click, and the left shoulder button performs a right-click. This sounds like the opposite of what it should be, but the right shoulder button is in the most convenient location, so it makes sense.

Related: How to Remap Xbox, PlayStation, and Other Controller Buttons in Steam

Other buttons also perform convenient actions. For example, the left touchpad functions as a scroll wheel, while the joystick functions as up, down, left, and right arrow keys.

You can actually adjust all these controls yourself. To do so, open Steam’s Big Picture mode interface, select the “Settings” cog button in the top-right corner of the screen, select “Configurations” under Controller, and select “Desktop configuration.” You can tweak your settings from here like you’d tweak the Steam controller’s profiles to work with any game.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to open Steam’s on-screen keyboard, as it’s part of the Steam overlay. But you can use the Windows on-screen keyboard, just as you’d use it with an Xbox controller.

There’s really no subsitite for a keyboard and mouse for heavy PC use, but having a controller function as a basic mouse and keyboard is great for some basic Netflix or other video-playback and web-browsing in your living room. It’s a shame support for using Microsoft’s own Xbox controllers on the Windows desktop isn’t just built into Windows, but with the right software, you’ll be up and running in no time.

Image Credit: Yixiao Wen on Flickr

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