I was wrong, wrong, WRONG and I need to correct the record. On April 13, I wrote a blog post titled "Your Screen Share Is Cheating.” In that post, I breathlessly announced the shocking discovery that web conferencing and webinar technologies don’t accurately show online meeting participants the cursor you see on your own screen during screen shares.
That is a true and factual description of the behavior. What followed was my own best guess as to what causes it to happen. That’s where I got it completely wrong. I theorized that the web conferencing companies built in the cheat to improve performance.
Nope. I leapt to a conclusion without enough testing. It turns out that if you use the Windows 10 “Mouse Pointer” control settings to change your displayed cursor, Microsoft uses some kind of evil magic that only shows up on your physical device. You can see it, and if you have a projector hard-wired to your computer, the other people in the room with you can see it.
But you can’t capture it and ever show it to someone who isn’t there with you. I have tried static screen captures with third-party utilities such as HyperSnap. I have tried video recording with Camtasia. (Windows own built-in PrintScreen functionality doesn’t capture the cursor, so that’s out of the equation).
The only way to show you what I’m talking about is to use shaky, low-resolution pictures taken with my smartphone pointed at my computer screen. They look terrible, exhibiting the moiré effect that these kinds of photos end up with, caused by interference patterns in pixels and refresh rates. That’s just an artifact of pointing a camera at an LCD monitor and is well known. It has nothing to do with the cursor phenomenon. Pretend the wavy lines aren’t there.
Here’s our default reference image. I have brought up the Mouse Pointer settings menu in Windows 10 Control Panel before making any changes. It’s confusing at first… There is a slider bar under “Change pointer size” with small and large pointer arrows used as visual labels to tell you what the slider does. My actual mouse pointer is just to the right of those (it’s very small):
Notice that the first box under “Change pointer color” has a check mark in its upper right corner. I will select each of the other three boxes in turn to demonstrate how you can change your cursor’s visual behavior.
Here is a setting with the slider bar moved to the right to make the pointer larger and the second box selected to make the cursor have a black fill instead of white:
The third box makes the cursor transparent to things underneath it by inverting the color as it passes over them. Very fancy!
The fourth box lets you change the pointer to a fill color other than black or white:
It doesn’t matter which setting you pick. Once you involve a piece of software to grab and display the cursor, it ignores the settings and shows the default cursor. Here’s a snapshot I took in Hypersnap. Notice that the slider bar is moved to the right and the black cursor box is selected. But my cursor (towards the lower right of the picture) looks small and white. That’s not what I saw on my screen, but it’s what the software captured:
The same thing happens with Camtasia screen recordings and the same thing happens with screen sharing technologies in web conferencing platforms. Microsoft feeds them a description of the cursor in its default state, ignoring what the computer user actually sees. It has nothing to do with any failings of the web conferencing software itself.
I don’t have a Mac, so I asked my colleague Nolan Haims to run the same tests on his Mac. The situation is better, but still not perfect. Here’s the cursor settings panel on a Mac:
Changes to the cursor size ARE picked up by other software programs on a Mac. However the boxes at the top of the panel to invert colors, use grayscale, and so on make changes that are visible on the local monitor, but are not passed through to other programs.
I find this both fascinating and irritating. Those cursor settings were added for a reason. There are times when you need the enhanced visibility aids. They can be especially important when presenting to others. And even more so when you are working with remote audiences. The fact that you can’t rely on other people seeing what you see is unsettling and inconvenient.
If any readers submit a way to accurately capture or transmit the cursor image as seen on the screen, I will be sure to update this post.