A joystick is really just a pointing device, very closely related in function to the mouse. For games designed for use on a PC running the Windows 98 operating system (and earlier), the joysticks usually connected to the computer via the 15-pin game port. Post Windows 98 operating systems started employing the USB interface, and it is the most popular method for connecting a joystick today.
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Joysticks can provide many functions. Most joysticks provide the ability to point or move an on-screen object using coordinates on an x and y axis. In addition, the joystick can provide from one to several buttons which can be used for various functions. Steering wheels and game pads basically provide the same functions but with a different physical design for the user.
Joystick drivers are programs that provide for the communication between the computer and the joystick regardless of what connection method is used to connect the two. The provide the programming that tells the computer what the joystick positional signals mean, how they may be calibrated, and how they relate to user programs that require them. They also provide for the monitoring of button signal states (on or off), which normally represent a user programmed function (such as dropping a bomb or firing a gun). Joystick drivers also provide the programming for feedback forces that cause the controller to vibrate, enhancing the users’ experience. On PCs using Windows, Microsoft provides a driver in the operating system for simple, generic joysticks. However, for more sophisticated joysticks, it is best to use the joystick driver created by the maker of the joystick. Microsoft also produces an application program interface (API) called that resolves many of the compatibility issues between the joystick and the application (game program for example) using it.