Matt Gemmell

My new book CHANGER is out now!

An action-thriller novel — book 1 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon


Interface, Pie menus & Tech 3 min read

I bought a Mighty Mouse to help with testing my Pie Menus, since the vast bulk of you are using mice. Here are a few thoughts on both the Mighty Mouse itself, and how it is to be using a mouse on a Mac again after a long time using just trackpads.

First, a few thoughts on the Mighty Mouse:

  • The scroll ball is really, really small. Not in a bad way; it's just striking how tiny it actually is. Like a third of the diameter of my index finger tip.
  • Apple have really pinned down the detection of which 'button' was clicked; it's been 100% accurate for me. Impressive.
  • The squeeze buttons are maybe slightly awkwardly positioned, but I have no trouble reliably triggering them. I've got them set to launch Terminal at the moment. I'm pretty sure it'll cripple me if I use it too much though.
  • I notice that the laser automatically dims if the mouse isn't near a surface. Maybe that's a normal optical mouse feature that I've just not noticed before.
  • I had to crank the tracking speed way up before I felt comfortable with it.
  • Would be nice if it was Bluetooth, but it doesn't bother me much.

Now, on to my experience using a mouse on the Mac. For years I’ve only ever used Mac laptops. Desktop PCs have been part of my daily routine for just as long, all of which have been equipped with scrollwheel optical mice, but I’ve only ever used the trackpad on my PowerBooks. I remember Daniel Brown at Adobe telling me one time that he only ever used laptops, for the convenience of taking everything with you and so on, and I agreed. My last desktop Mac was a clone, powered by a blisteringly fast 200Mhz PPC 604e processor. Smokin’.

I vividly remember sitting on a SFO-LHR flight and forcing myself to learn to use the trackpad for everything; the USB mouse stayed in the bag. By the time I reached London, I was pretty comfortable with the pad, and I never looked back.

When I started using the mouse today, it naturally felt awkard to me. Interestingly, as soon as I started using the mouse in Safari, I felt a desperate need for gestures support (like in Firefox), which is something I’ve never wanted whilst using the trackpad. (Obligatory mention of Gus’ crazy-cool FlyGesture for OS X, by the way.)

I’m not a mousing person at all (and I mean that in the sense of not being a pointing-device person at all; not just an actual mouse), in that I use keyboard shortcuts and keyboard navigation for everything. My hands know the keyboard shortcuts for most of the functions I need in all my applications, and it hurts me when I have to use a pointing device momentarily. I’ve found that the trackpad minimises that pain since it’s so close to the keyboard that I can readily move my hand down to the pad and then back up again without feeling unduly interrupted. I’ll click a link in Safari and then immediately return to my typing position, so if I need to go back one page I’ll always use the keyboard shortcut since my hands will be there already anyway.

By contrast, the mouse is very far away from the keyboard (relatively speaking, even if it’s right next to the PowerBook). With the trackpad and built-in keyboard, the size of my “input space” is small, and confined to the area immediately under the screen. That focuses my attention and lets me feel that my input devices are allowing me to interact with the machine at a reasonable pace relative to my thought processes. Having to lift my arm outward and onto the mouse and drag it around feels like a huge burden to me, and breaks that focus. Somehow the mouse feels like it’s one level further removed from the actual on-screen cursor than the trackpad is. Strange to say, but it’s subjectively true for me.

The “closeness” of the trackpad to the screen is what allows me to feel most unhindered by my input devices, whereas the mouse feels like an almost ridiculous toy by comparison. I find that feeling really fascinating since I don’t have any of those feelings when using the desktop PCs at the university. I guess that I completely mode-switch when using the Mac. Lauren has pointed out several times that I still default to automatically using the trackpad even when the mouse is attached, though at this early stage that’s of course to be expected.

One final comment I’ll make is that the mouse seems to encourage me to zone out, and get into this partly-conscious state of mind whereby I’ll surf the web aimlessly and navigate based purely on what I can do with the mouse. Whilst not entirely unenjoyable, it’s noteworthy that I never get into that condition when using the trackpad.

I’m going to stick with the mouse and see how my feelings about it develop during the next few days. As I said, I’ve not used a mouse on a PowerBook for years, so much of this will simply be unfamiliarity. I do think, however, that the issue of the sense of broken focus and a widening of my “input space” are significant, hence why I’m writing this at all.

Cute mouse, though.