Retro pointing

So Melin and I ended up talking about keyboards, mice and other pointing devices (in Swedish). Excepting some short bursts of playing games, I have been trackpad-only for quite some time. Ever since OS X started making clever use of multi-touch gestures using it with a mouse always felt just a little bit limiting. Using a laptop a large part of the time helped motivate me too, as it is nice to keep working the same way when stationary too.

But I would also add to this the fact that Apple makes really good trackpads and - importantly - very crappy mice. Back in the day, Apple was hardline about their mice only having a single button. Scroll wheels were of course also completely out in the cold. OS X has always had support for outrageous numbers of buttons, but Apple steadfastly refused to ship a mouse with more than one. Right-clicking was control-clicking on OS X and scrolling using the mouse meant a trek over to the side of whichever window you wanted to move.

This all changed with the so called Mighty mouse, where Apple tried to invent a future of mice and slid straight into a hole.

First off, Apple tried to "improve" on scroll wheels by providing a small scroll ball on top. Wonderful, free-range scrolling in all directions. Great, right? Yes, but remember old mice? The pre-optical ones which used a ball connected to small wheels to track the surface? Remember how those wheels picked up dust, required regular cleaning and soon made mousing jerky and imprecise? Those problems do not get better with a very small ball which also happens to be impossible to remove.

Second, Apple did build multi-button capabilities into the Mighty, of sorts. See, the whole mouse is one physical button, just like the one-button mice before it, but due to sensors in the shell it can detect when only the right side is clicked. All you need to do is lift any fingers on the left before clicking.

In short: the Mighty mouse works just like a mouse with physical buttons and a more versatile scroll wheel, when it works perfectly. Then, the scroll ball breaks down (intermittently or permanently). And that right click works, but always and forever demands more precision and thought than a good old physical button.

Refusing to admit defeat, Apple has continued on the path of sensors on a one-button shell. I do not like the Magic mouse shape-wise, but at least scrolling by swipes is a big step up from that damn ball. Pretending to have more than one button, however, remains the exact same frustrating exercise. When it works, it is no better than a physical second button, and it fails to reach that level often enough to be noticeable.

So, I have stuck with trackpads for quite a while. Large, nice multi-touch trackpads. But, as we talked of Apple's old mice, I suddenly got the urge to dig out my old Apple wireless mouse. It is the very last of the one-button mice, optical and running over Bluetooth. It sits nicely in my hand, has a nice click sound, and with batteries installed has a heft I enjoy.

As I recalled, there had been some kind of problem with it the last time I used it. But I dug it out, admired the look and put some batteries in. Lo and behold, it worked!

I am even more surprised how much I enjoy using it.

Apple wireless mouse on Sun microsystems metal mouse mat Apple wireless mouse on Sun microsystems metal mouse mat

A good old mouse still has a precision a trackpad can not touch. Perhaps it is connected to being able to so easily push it around at various speeds? But there is another great and very human advantage to a physical-buttoned device without any touch sensitive trickery: it is completely safe and comfortable to rest your hand on it. Heck, I can even pick it up and roll it over in my hand should I wish, I still will not cause an accidental click. I would not say this has been a problem for me, but I do notice from time to time that I take care to lift my fingers off of touch sensitive devices when not actively using them. A physical button is safe until I click it myself.

(Hence: yes, I do see why people do not enable tap to click on their trackpads.)

Back in the day when I had just moved over from Windows, I was annoyed enough by OS X's cursor tracking speed and acceleration that I bought a mose driver called Steermouse. Setting it up felt like shaking the cursor free from a trail of glue. To my happy surprise, Steermouse is still around and actively developed! Not only that, I actually found my old registration information too!

Yes, it still feels like shaking the cursor free.

So, will I become a mouse hipster now? Sticking to my vintage one-button mouse?

I doubt it. I enjoy using it and am quite comfortable control-clicking like 2004, but scrolling will probably get to me soon. (Yes, I do use keyboard scrolling techniques.)

But it annoys me that I pick up this old, limited mouse and realize that all of Apple's "modern" pointing wizardry has been built on a foundation which is actually worse at the basics.