• All This for a Mouse?

    August 6th, 2005

    You have to get used to Apple making new product announcements on Tuesdays. But this time it wasn’t a new Mac or a new iPod. It was just a mouse, but not just any mouse, because when Apple gets in the game, you can expect something, well, a little different. So now we have the Mighty Mouse, an input device that’s designed to serve the needs of both single and multiple button fans.

    And to think I used to believe that Mighty Mouse was nothing more than a cartoon character! Serves me right.

    In any case, I don’t plan to actually review the device until I have more than 20 minutes to play with it. Instead, I’m going to put the new product in perspective. You see, for the first 21 years of the Mac’s existence, Apple apparently believed fervently in the concept of a single-button mouse. Even though other desktop platforms said you had to have at least two, Apple’s designers felt that you and I might become a mite confused if there were extra buttons at hand, and it’s hard to dispute them, since millions of you learned how to use a computer that way and stuck with it.

    At the same time, Apple left third parties to add those extra buttons, trackballs of various sizes, programmability and all the rest. That way, you have a choice, and a healthy input device industry grew to provide alternatives for Mac, Windows and Unix users.

    In case you’re into the history of such things, the original computer mouse, created and built by Douglas Englebart in 1964, had two wheels and a single button. The original mouse in use at Xerox’s famous PARC labs also had a single button, and Apple took the influence to its logical conclusion on its personal computers.

    At times through the years, Mac users were derided because a standard Apple mouse only had a single button. How quaint! Surely you can’t do serious computing with a single mouse. It didn’t matter when Apple made it “ergonomic,” meant to better follow the form of your hand, or took away the wires. But at least you didn’t have to concern yourself over what buttons to use if you happened to be left-handed.

    Beginning with the arrival of Mac OS X, things were poised to change. Apple included built-in drivers for the typical two-button mouse with the scroll wheel. Today’s Mouse preference panel even lets you map either the left or right button as the “primary,” meaning it’s designed for normal clicking purposes, which automatically allocates the second button to context menu use.

    My input device experience has been mixed. I started with the standard Apple mouse, but, when Kensington’s Turbo Mouse made its debut in the 1980s, I gave it a thorough workout. But for my long, thin fingers, the trackball was too large, and so I tried variants with smaller trackballs. But, despite claims of greater comfort, I kept returning to a traditional mouse. My present device of choice is the Logitech MX1000 Laser Cordless Mouse. It’s tall, falls comfortably into my right hand, and offers superb tracking, far superior to the standard Apple wired and wireless optical mouse.

    I don’t use the custom buttons at the right side of the device, so I stick with Apple’s standard drivers and haven’t bothered with the ones provided by Logitech. I’ve grown quite fond of scroll wheels, because it eases navigation through documents. In fact, I’m so used to the two button and scroll wheel arrangement that I actually find it awkward to return to a conventional mouse, assuming that Apple’s variation is conventional.

    That takes is to the Mighty Mouse. There have been rumors from time to time of a “killer” input device from Apple but, as you know, you can never be certain whether or not such reports are based on fact, fancy or just plain wishful thinking. To be sure, lots of professional users, particularly those acquainted with those “other” computing platforms, have been urging Apple to abandon it’s single-mouse strategy for some years now. When Mighty Mouse was first announced Tuesday morning, one professional user, who participates in a Mac OS X mailing list, remarked “Me like. Me want.”

    And that’s before he even got his hands on the thing.

    During my travels yesterday, I happened to stop in at The Apple Store in Phoenix, and discovered, not with much surprise, that their initial Mighty Mouse stock was sold out in less than an hour. Clearly there’s a lot of pent up demand for the product and, in the days to come, you’ll find lots of detailed reviews. I’m going to jump into the game too, but not till I’ve spent a fair amount of face time with the product. So stay tuned. Meantime, we’re going to include the Mighty Mouse on this week’s giveaway on The Tech Night Owl LIVE on Thursday evening.

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