How-To: Control Any Aspect of Your Computer With an Xbox 360 Controller

Alan Fackler

A desktop is more than just a computer .  It’s also your entertainment center , eager and willing to provide you with endless hours of gaming, movies and music.  As time goes on, it has become more and more common to see PC’s synched to TVs as people are beginning to see the advantages of having easy, living room-wide entertainment powered by their computers.  I don’t even own a monitor (or a desk for that matter)--my desk-less desktop computer is hooked up to a Panasonic HD TV hanging on my wall, and it’s most often controlled by a wireless keyboard and mouse from the nearest sofa or bed.  If this sounds like a familiar (or ideal) set up, this article may be helpful to you.

The downside to utilizing this sort of a set-up lies strictly in loss of control.  A wireless keyboard and mouse combo will work for basic computer tasking, but are slow and often unreliable - especially for tasks like watching movies or gaming where you truly need a quick response.  And, if you’re sitting clear across the room like me, getting a wired keyboard and mouse with extra-long extensions seems a little excessive.

There is, however, a simple alternative.  Have a wired console controller tucked away somewhere, gathering dust?  I’ll bet you do.  Using open source programs like Xpadder, you can configure that very controller to become a tool to help you with your day-to-day, distance computing needs.

Beginning is simple.  Head over to and download the latest open source driver.  Installation is quick and painless.  Open Xpadder and click the controller icon on the top left of the program, and hit New.

This will open a tabbed interface that you’ll be using to configure your controller.  Before you begin the actual configuration, you’ll need a bitmap of the controller you’d like to use, as you’ll literally be assigning commands to different buttons on the controllers layout.

Finding a bitmap isn’t hard-- I found a great bitmap here .  Save the bitmap to a folder then click ‘open’ to find it.  Once the controller is on the screen, you’re ready to begin.  You’ll notice different tabs that correspond to different parts of your controller.  Start with your joysticks by hitting the Sticks tab and following the on-screen prompts.

Remember, every time you calibrate a part of your controller, you’ve got to drag that calibration (in the form of circles for joysticks and squares for buttons) over the part of the controller you’d like to change.  When you’re on the Buttons tab, every time you press a button a square will appear.  As before, simply drag that square over the button you’d like to use.  The Buttons tab should handle the majority of the controller—remember that pressing down on either joysticks is considered a ‘button’ as well (how else are you supposed to knife somebody in COD ?).

Once you’ve calibrated all of your buttons, you’re ready to assign commands.  This is where Xpadder really shines as a program—commands are totally different depending on what program or game you’re using, so designing and saving different layouts for different tasks becomes very important.

I have different calibrations for different games, one for movies, one for music, and one that allows me to use my Xbox controller as a point and click mouse.  Here’s what that configuration looks like:

As you can see from the image, this calibration is extremely straightforward.  I can move the mouse around with the left joy stick, the A button is my left clicker, and the B button is my right.  Easy enough.  Let’s try something more complex by adding to our mouse configuration.

This is a “Windows Media” configuration, and functions much like an Xbox controller would if you popped a DVD into your console.  In order to do this, I looked up all of the hot key commands for Windows Media Player, and typed in the ones I need on the controller layout.  The right shoulder button now fast forwards, the left rewinds, the triggers skip scenes, and the pause button, well, pauses the movie.  The analog stick is still configured to function as a mouse, and I’ve even calibrated the d-pad to turn up or turn down the sound as well.  Now, when I want to watch a movie and use my controller, I can simply save this configuration to my desktop and use it whenever I’m ready to watch a DVD.

This doesn’t just apply to movies either.  Because of the nature of my setup, I do a lot of gaming using my controller as well.  Shockingly, many popular games won’t recognize a console controller.  Don’t believe me?  Try using your Xbox controller with Call of Duty.  Or Battlefield 2.  Or H.A.W.X.  With Xpadder, you can design a configuration that will work with any game, regardless of whether the developers want you to or not, save it, and use it any time you need.

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