Mac Musings

Apple Does Us a Favor by Not Shipping a Better Mouse

Dan Knight - 2005.02.23 - Tip Jar

Apple, the company that brought the mouse and graphical user interface to the masses, remains adamantly opposed to offering a mouse with more than one button.

The odd thing is, Mac OS X fully supports two-button mice. You can buy any two-button USB mouse out there, plug it into the Mac, and be able to right-click to your heart's content.

Apple's operating system supports the hardware, but Apple won't make the hardware themselves.

Big deal - there are plenty of great third-party mice out there. Apple's mouse may look cool to some, but I'm far happier with the fit and function of my Logitech mice, my Contour MiniPro mouse, the cheap Macally iOptiJr scroll mouse, and the ancient Kensington mice than any mouse Apple has ever produced.

Choice

By not including a mouse with the Mac mini or the 'Books, Apple lets us choose what kind of input device we want to use. A few people are enamored of touch tablets and trackballs, but most people choose a mouse. And I'd guess that very few people who have looked at the competition choose Apple's single-button mouse.

The one-button mouse is simple and adequate - about the only good things you can say about it. A multi-button mouse lets you access contextual menus with one hand and a click (instead of a command-click, which means holding the command key with one hand and clicking the mouse with the other). Believe me, once you start using a two-button mouse, you'll never go back.

More buttons can be nice, or it can be confusing. My current choice, the Logitech Cordless Mouseman Optical, has a thumb button that I've programmed with cmd-[ - that's the "back" command in most browsers and when navigating through Finder windows. I use it all the time.

After the second button, the biggest reason to choose a third-party mouse is the scroll wheel. Again, that's something supported by Mac OS X. And it's wonderful. I can read an article in my browser and spin the wheel as I move down the page. No need to hit the down arrow or Page Down key. No need to move the mouse to the scroll bar and click. Just scroll by spinning the wheel.

Alas, it's not supported by every program, and that includes some of Apple's apps, but it's the kind of feature that you'll be hooked on once you've used it.

Beyond Buttons and Wheels

There are a lot of other reasons to consider third-party mice. Cost is definitely one of them - you can buy a two-button scroll mouse for less than Apple's US$29 lozenge-shaped single-button mouse.

You can get tiny mice to use with your portable computer - wired or wireless. You can choose a wireless mouse that doesn't require Bluetooth. You can get a mouse with lots of buttons or just a few. Your choice.

I like visiting the mouse section of CompUSA, Office Max, and Office Depot just to see what's new and discover how today's mice handle. Recently I've seen the next feature in the evolution of the mouse - scrolling sideways. It has me lusting after a new mouse.

The way side-scrolling works is simple and intuitive. Instead of spinning the wheel to move up and down, you push the scroll wheel right or left to scroll right or left on the page. It's brilliant.

That, of course, isn't supported by the Mac OS, so you'll need to make sure you choose a mouse with Macintosh drivers to use side-scrolling. That includes all the leading vendors, including Microsoft and Logitech.

If you're thinking of buying a new mouse, it's worth trying out.

And that's the best reason to buy your mouse locally - you can try before you buy. Some mice just fit the hand better than others, and the larger mice that I prefer may not fit your hands at all.

You're going to spend a lot of time with your hand on the mouse, so spend some time holding various mice, moving them, clicking the buttons, spinning the scroll wheel. Discover which one is just right for you.

If you end up choosing Apple's mouse, I'd be very surprised, so in the end Apple does us all a service by not including a multi-button mouse and letting those who want a better mouse choose what's best for them.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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