Why I Hate Apple Mice (and Trackpads), and What I've Done About It


- Episode 29 - October 29th, 2004

The only Apple-branded pointing device I've ever liked, even a little, was the marble-like trackball used in the earliest PowerBooks. Other than that, I've hated some more than others (the horrid round mouse supplied with the original iMacs comes to mind), but there hasn't been a single one I liked even a little.

There's a fundamental flaw in Apple pointing devices, at least for me, and that flaw is that they have since time immemorial, offered only a single button.

Read my lips: A mouse needs more than a single button to be truly useful. How many times a day to you Control-Click, Option-Click, Shift-Click, or Other-Click? Now don't you think it would be easier if you didn't have to use both hands to do those things?

As long as I can remember I've used multi-button pointing devices with my Macs-a Kensington trackball for my desktop system and a Microsoft mouse with my PowerBook. The trackball I'm using today is a Kensington Expert Mouse, with four buttons and a scroll wheel; the one before that, which I liked even better until its untimely demise, was a Kensington Turbo Mouse Pro, which also had 4 buttons and a scroll wheel, but also included six "direct launch" buttons that could be programmed to do just about anything I desired.

Brief aside: Why does Kensington insist using the word "Mouse" in the name of most of their Trackballs? A mouse is a mouse, and a trackball is a trackball; using Mouse in a trackball's name is dumb.

I hate trackpads almost as much as single-button mice. So my current PowerBook mouse is a Microsoft Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse; the one before it was a full-sized Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0.

What do I do with all those extra buttons? Let me show you. Here's the software for the Kensington trackball:

(Click the image for a larger version.)

As you can see, the lower left button performs a regular click and the lower right button performs a Control-Click. The upper left button sends the keystroke Command-[ and the upper right button sends the keystroke Command-]. What's so special about Command-] and Command-[, you ask? Well, in many applications including the Finder, Apple Help, and most Web browsers, those are the shortcuts for Back and Forward. I use them a ton so they get their own buttons.

Now here's another cool feature of the Kensington mouse driver-when I click both of the upper buttons at the same time, it's called a "chord," and in this case it performs an Option-Click, handy for hiding and showing applications. If I click both of the lower buttons simultaneously ("chord" them), it performs a Shift-Click, which extends the selection and is another shortcut I use about a million times a day.

See the Application Settings menu? It lets me assign different shortcuts to the buttons for specific applications. So, for example, I can use them for Copy and Paste in programs that don't have a Forward and Back command.

Another reason I like third-party mice and trackballs is that they allow finer adjustments to the pointer speed. As you can see below, I like the cursor to move very slowly when I rotate the trackball slowly, but like it super fast when I move the trackball quickly.

(Click the image for a larger version.)

The Microsoft Mouse software works pretty much the same way and I've got it configured pretty much the same as the trackball (without the "chords," which the Microsoft software doesn't support), as shown below:

(Click the image for a larger version.)

So there you have it. I like multi-button pointing devices and I hate to compute without one. If you're still using an archaic Apple single-button mouse or trackpads, give it a try. I assure you that if you choose a multi-button mouse or trackball, you're going to get more work done with less effort.

As the old Alka-Seltzer™ ads used to say, "Try it… you'll like it!"