Here I Come to Save the Day (or, "Hands on with Mighty Mouse")


Episode 43
August 5th, 2005

I woke up Tuesday morning to find a package from Apple, boldly labeled Mighty Mouse, on my front porch. I had only been awake for a few minutes and I hadn't yet had coffee or surfed the Web, so my first though was, "Why the heck is Apple sending me a cartoon character?"

"Here I come to save the day!"

I soon figured out that it wasn't that Mighty Mouse…but rather, it was Apple's brand spankin' new input device, announced and introduced earlier Tuesday morning for US$49 at the Apple Store. As I ripped open the box, my phone began to ring; it was Apple calling to brief me on their latest, greatest rodent. So before I downed even one cup of java, I had a box containing a Mighty Mouse of my very own and had been briefed, albeit briefly, by the Apple product team.

After ingesting sufficient quantities of a highly caffeinated beverage, I managed to rip open the package, install the Mighty Mouse software, and get that handsome little sucker up and running.

Here's what Mighty Mouse looks like:

Figure 1: Mighty Mouse looks almost exactly like its predecessor with the addition of a tiny Scroll Ball.
(Photo courtesy Apple Computer.)

Mighty Mouse is a breakthrough device in many ways. First and foremost, this is Apple's first Mac mouse with more than one button. Those of you who have read my stuff over the years know that I've been singing the praises of multi-button mice and trackballs for many years now. But until this week, if you wanted to take advantage of more than one button on your mouse, you had to buy it from a third-party such as Microsoft, Kensington, or Logitech.

So first and foremost it's got more than one "button." But, being an Apple product, those aren't just buttons, they're "programmable touch sensors." As you see in the picture above, Mighty Mouse has a smooth shell with no seams or visible buttons. That's because the buttons are hidden inside and activated by clicking the shell in just the right place. Clicking on the left side performs a standard click; clicking on the right side performs what Apple now calls a "secondary" click, (the click formerly known as Control-click). It's sweet and works like a charm. I've only mis-clicked a couple of times since I started using Mighty Mouse and I haven't had a mis-click in the last couple of days.

But that pair of invisible buttons are merely the tip of the iceberg… there's much more to like about Mighty Mouse. For example, my favorite feature (aside from it having more than one button) is the new Scroll Ball, a tiny sphere placed where you'd ordinarily find a scroll wheel on other multi-button mice. I find the Scroll Ball superior to any other scrolling device I've tried. For one thing, it's comfortable to use and extremely precise, allowing you to easily scroll line-by-line or in huge chunks. But its best feature is that it allows both vertical and horizontal scrolling simultaneously, so you can easily scroll up, down, sideways, and diagonally in most programs. That is way cool and incredibly useful when you're editing large documents in programs like Photoshop or iPhoto.

The Scroll Ball also acts as a third button, which can invoke Expose, Spotlight, the Application Switcher (e.g. Command-Tab), launch a specified application, or act as the third mouse button for programs that prefer a three button mouse (mostly high-end CAD programs).

Finally, squeezing both edges of Mighty Mouse activates a fourth button.

A nice touch is that Mighty Mouse is totally symmetrical, unlike some third-party multi-button mice, which means left-handed users won't be left out of the fun.

The Mighty Mouse software, included on CD, requires Mac OS X 10.4.2 or later. If you're running 10.4.2 or later, it updates your Keyboard and Mouse System Preference pane and allows you to configure all four buttons as shown below:

Figure 2: The Keyboard & Mouse System Preference pane after installing the Mighty Mouse software.
(Click the thumbnail for a full-sized image)

If you use an earlier version of Mac OS X, or choose to use Mighty Mouse with Windows, you can use it as a two-button scrolling mouse, but you'll lose the ability to configure your third (Scroll Ball) and fourth (side squeeze) buttons.

Of course, this being its inaugural release, I have a couple of quibbles…

First and foremost, I am dismayed that it won't allow me to configure any of its buttons to send a keystroke. You can configure any button to invoke Expose, Dashboard, Spotlight, or the Application Switcher, or to launch a specific program, but that's it. You can't configure any of them to send a keystroke such as Command-[ or Command-], which are my favorite shortcuts (for Back and Forward in both the Finder and Safari).

That could be the deal-breaker for me… You see, my previous mouse, the Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2, lets me use two of its buttons to send the keystrokes for Forward (Command-]) and Back (Command-[) as shown below:

Figure 3: My IntelliMouse Explorer lets me use any button I like to send keystrokes like Command-] (Forward) or Command-[ (Back) while Mighty Mouse doesn't allow any of its buttons to send keystrokes. Bummer!
(Click the thumbnail for a full-sized image)

I've been missing that feature a lot since I switched to the Mighty Mouse.

Another issue for me is that the fourth button-the one you invoke by squeezing the sides of your Mighty Mouse-is awkward to use. I have to reposition my hand on the mouse to make it work. That's not good. For what it's worth, I'd prefer two independent programmable buttons that you press over one button that requires a squeeze.

Finally, I've grown used to the freedom of a wireless mouse, so I am not thrilled about being tethered to my Mac by a USB cable.

Still, I love the Scroll Ball to death and will stick with Mighty Mouse for a while, hoping Apple adds support for keystrokes and/or allows the left and right side buttons to operate independently of each other without squeezing. But I'll almost certainly switch back to my Microsoft Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0 unless the Mighty Mouse software gains one or both of those features. While I definitely prefer Mighty Mouse's Scroll Ball to the IntelliMouse tilting scroll wheel, I prefer having Forward and Back buttons on my mouse even more.

And that's all he wrote…

Mighty Mouse
Apple Computer, Inc.
S.R.P. $49

Mighty Mouse works with all versions of Mac OS X, Windows 2000, and Windows XP; Mac OS X 10.4.2 or higher required for full four-button functionality. Compatible with both USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 ports.