Short and sweet:
The “Fisher-Price Fun-2-Learn Computer Cool School” is not technically compatible with Windows 7.
The Computer Cool School device is a learning tool for Windows XP/Vista for children 3 & up. It’s got amazing software and over 6 expansion modules that are purchasable separately.
SUPPORT SAYS: “NOT COMPATIBLE WITH WINDOWS 7”
Despite searching every search engine known to mankind, there’s virtually no record of any statement about an incompatibility between “Computer Cool School” & Windows 7 on Mattel/Fisher-Price’s web site or in any support documentation. There’s nothing on any consumer web sites or school tech support sites either. The only entry documenting this that I could find was on Amazon’s customer comments:
“I was going to buy the product, but I called Fisher Price Customer Relations Dept. first to ask if the product is Windows 7 compatible. According to them, it is NOT. So the product is only compatible with XP or Vista!”
I’ve read a variety of issues about this toy, and still – it’s so frickin’ cool with it’s rich software set, interactive games & sounds – that I really just had to suck it up, pick up a unit, and try to get this thing to work.
THE PROBLEM: POINTING DEVICE CONFLICTS
The software itself works – and it works really well. Better than anything I’ve seen to date. That’s not a problem. The Computer Cool School software loads right up on my son’s computer and looks great, automatically changing the resolution, audio comes in clearly, no problems from that standpoint.
The issue for me is that keyboard/tablet accessory that comes with ‘Computer Cool School’ malfunctions. The mouse pointer rapidly JUMPS all over the screen uncontrollably & the problem appears to be some sort of severe incompatibility with the driver for the Computer Cool School “Tablet” and the built-in touch pointer on my laptop which happens to be a Intel Core2Duo powered HP 8430 using a Synaptics touchpad.. Yes, it’s way overpowered for this kid’s scenario but it’s a spare machine so that’s what I’m using.
My first reaction is, “Well, then kill the tablet. Have him learn to use a mouse.” Nope. Not possible. The software requires that the keyboard and tablet be plugged in because there are ancillary buttons that are no on a traditional keyboard.
ATTEMPT #1: COMPATIBILITY MODE
I’ve tried installing the software using Compatibility Mode for Windows XP SP2 & SP3. (As in – I actually ran the SETUP.EXE in Compatibility Mode to present the appropriately emulated installation environment to the installation software) I’ve set compatibility variables for 640×480, disabled high-resolution scaling, run as admin… everything. Nothing worked. The mouse cursor jumps around randomly, I assume again due to some sort of conflict with the existing pointing devices.
BTW: I also tried shuttling the native resolution of the screen down thinking that the pointing device conflict had something to do with mapping to absolute screen coordinates
ATTEMPT #2: WINDOWS XP MODE FOR WINDOWS 7
My next attempt was going to be to run the thing in Windows XP Mode or “Virtual PC 2007” in a virtualized session of Windows XP SP3. Not the greatest solution but it’s better than it not working at all. I started to download all the appropriate software – some 500MB of virtual machine data along with 2 software packages (whew!) and here’s what downloads were involved:
- Windows XP Mode for Windows 7: http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?displaylang=en&id=8002 (469MB)
- Windows Virtual PC for Windows 7:
- Update for Windows 7 (KB977206):
I won’t bore you with the details except to say that this DID NOT WORK. The issue is that Windows XP Mode/Virtual PC does not support Human Interface Devices (HID) over USB – and the Fisher Price Computer Cool School keyboard/tablet is a HID over USB device. I learned this only after having installed all of this and then doing research on Virtual PC’s USB redirection support. Trust me… I was not a happy camper.
ATTEMPT #3: DISABLING POINTING DEVICES
I decided to try disabling the Synaptics Touchpad driver & plug in a small mouse – the Microsoft Notebook Mouse to be exact. So I tried this by going to Control Panel –> Device Manager –> Mice and Right Mouse clicked the Synaptics pointer and disabled the device. I plugged in a new mouse and got the driver loaded for it & I rebooted … and lo-and-behold, the Computer Cool School tablet pointer appeared to be behaving & both the mouse & the tablet worked in harmony.
Or was it?
When the tablet was used, it made the mouse pointer shake VIGOROUSLY. Yes, there’s no longer any jumping around the screen but the pointer ‘jiggled’ rapidly and annoyingly making precision difficult. When the mouse was used, shaking sometimes occurred. GRRR.
ATTEMPT #4: Oracle VirtualBox
Remember how Virtual PC/Windows XP Mode doesn’t support USB redirection of HID devices like the Fisher Price Computer Cool School keyboard/tablet? Well Oracle VirtualBox does in fact support HID over USB.
So I downloaded VirtualBox and installed it, along with a copy of Windows XP.
- Oracle VirtualBox
I originally tried to have it boot up the .VHD file from Windows XP mode which is supposed to work but I never got it working. Anyway, I’ll make this short and say that the experience I had in the VM was identical to the experience I had under Windows 7. Only slower since it was in virtualization. Yes, that was a lot of work for the exact same results.
ATTEMPT #5: Using the mouse, shuttling down pointer speed, and ‘hiding the tablet pen’
This might sound stupid but basically I decided that instead of wiping the entire machine and installing Windows XP Professional (which I was prepared to do) maybe I could salvage this by simply getting the mouse stable, keeping the keyboard plugged in, and just letting my son use the mouse.
So I hid the pen. I move the pen and cabling to behind the keyboard and just stashed it there away from the tablet and a weird thing happened: The mouse pointer stopped wiggling and everything seemed stable. It was as if, since the pen was away from electromagnetic fields, everything stablized. If I even put my hand near the pen however the mouse pointer started acting wonky.
Keep in mind: The Fisher Price keyboard MUST be plugged in and the tablet/pen interface MUST be connected in order for the software to run. That’s why we have to keep it plugged in and just “deal” with the tempermental tablet/pen. In any case, I had my son come over and ignore the tablet/pen and simply use the mouse. After about 30 mins of using the compromised configuration, I came to the following conclusion:
- This will work! It’s clear that he can learn to use the mouse at the age of 3.
- Need to get a smaller mouse. (I eventually got a microsized mouse for his little hand – http://www.amazon.com/IOGEAR-Optical-Mini-Mouse-GME222A/dp/B000AL7A0C/)
- Need to slow down the mouse pointer speed since his motor skills are still weak. Move the slider for pointer speed to almost the slowest rate.
So that’s what I did to try to get this to work. I’m sorry if this was a lonnnnng winded way of explaining that the tablet/pen interface has issues in Windows 7 and that the best resolution is to simply move the pen aside and just use a mouse instead… but it was a lot of work and I wanted to a least document everything I did to test these scenarios.
Oh… and one more thing, my dear reader:
If you made it this far, I have a little surprise for you. If you’re reading this, you probably have the Fisher Price Computer Cool School purchased already. If you look online, you’ve probably noticed that there are 10 add on learning packs available in the form of separately purchasable CDROMs including lessons from Dora the Explorer, Super Why, Kai-Lan, Sesame Street, Wonder Pets, Clifford, Super Friends, Scooby Doo, SpongeBob, and Leo’s Dinosaur Adventure. These are being priced at outrageous prices, mostly $40 each but some like Super Why, as high as $200… but I found someone that will sell them for only $10 each. So you could purchase all 10 expansion packs for just $100. Click this link to go there! (In case the auction disappears, his name is Richard Foster. His email is djsycoATmsnDOTcom & he goes by the name twidlebug on eBay.)