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  12-05-03 | This column originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.


Multi-button Mice (and Trackballs) are Nice


By Bob LeVitus

Don’t get me wrong. I think Apple’s keyboards and mice are beautiful, and beautifully designed. The no-button mouse is simplicity itself and the minimalist Power Mac and iMac keyboards are graceful and elegant. But as pretty as they may be and as thoughtfully as they may be designed, I don’t like using them.

Mac OS X assumes you’re using a single-button mouse, as has every version of Mac OS since 1984. What many users don’t realize is that you can plug in a two, three, or more-button mouse, and have two, three, or more times the functionality in the palm of your mousing hand.

If my hand is on the mouse, I want to be able to do as many things as possible with that hand and that mouse. And so, for me, a single button just doesn’t cut it. And, in fact, even two won’t do. On my desktop, you’ll find nothing less than a top-of-the-line Kensington Turbo Mouse Pro Wireless, with four main buttons, a scroll wheel, and six additional “DirectLaunch” buttons for one-touch access to my favorite applications and Web addresses.

The thing feels solid as a rock, too, with a huge, heavy trackball that’s just right for my meaty palm. And the excellent MouseWorks software lets me use any button for any purpose at any time, and gives me better control over cursor speed and velocity than the OS X Keyboard and Mouse System Preference pane.

I’ve got mine configured as follows:

Bottom-left button: Click.
Bottom-right button: Control-click (right-click).
Top-left button: Forward (Command-])
Top-right button: Back (Command-[)

I’ve had half a dozen different mice and trackballs on my desk over the past year and the Turbo Mouse Pro is the one I keep coming back to. It isn’t cheap but it may be the finest Mac trackball ever made.

But the new Kensington Expert Mouse comes darn close. It too has four large main buttons, but no DirectLaunch buttons. And instead of a scroll wheel, it has a unique scroll ring—a large ribbed circle that encircles the trackball. I find the scroll ring easier to use and more convenient than a scroll wheel, but I like the DirectLaunch buttons more, so I’m sticking with the Turbo Mouse Pro. But since I hate to let a good multi-button trackball go to waste, the Expert Mouse has been put into use on the family eMac, where it’s proving quite popular with both kids and mom as well.

I’m not a big fan of the track pad built into PowerBooks and iBooks, either. So when I travel with my PowerBook, I always pack an alternative-pointing device. Since the Turbo Mouse Pro is too big, heavy, and awkward for travel, I’ve settled on the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer, a sleek, ergonomically designed four-button mouse as my travel rodent of choice. With its four buttons and scroll wheel, it’s almost as capable as my trackball, but half the size and weight. And the Microsoft IntelliMouse software is almost as good as Kensington’s.

Now, here’s a cool tip: If you’re using Mac OS X and you’re on a tight budget, you can use almost any multi-button USB mouse, regardless of whether it claims to support the Mac. Because Mac OS X has built-in support for two button mice and scroll wheels, you get those two features—which work in many programs including the Finder—for free.

Once you’ve gone multi-button you’ll never go back.

Kensington Turbo Mouse Pro Wireless
Street price $125
Kensington Expert Mouse
Street Price $90

Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer
Street price $40

Bob LeVitus is a leading authority on Mac OS and the author of 41 books, including The Little iTunes Book and Mac OS X for Dummies, 2nd Edition. E-mail comments to [email protected].

Copyright © 2003 Bob LeVitus

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