When is Apple going to come out with a two-button mouse? Mac users have been asking that question for so long that Apple’s introduction of the multi-button Mighty Mouse (with an omnidirectional scroll ball) is almost an anticlimax. If users seriously pined for a right-button to access the Mac’s contextual menus (an ease-of-use amenity that Windows users have long enjoyed), they probably abandoned Apple’s stylish but less-functional one-button mouse a long time ago.
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If you’re using OS X 10.4.2 or later, you can install the included software. Once installed, the options appear in the Keyboard & Mouse dialog in the System Preferences. The software is very easy to use, with a diagram of the buttons and pull-down menus to program them (see screenshot, right).
The Mighty Mouse has a beautiful minimalistic, modern design, and is completely ambidextrous. Its shape is similar to the long, oval Apple Pro Mouse, but without the clear acrylic shell, giving it a similar finish to the iBook and the top of the Mac mini. The cable is rather short, though, at 74cm, so you may need a USB extender cable if you don’t use a keyboard that has a USB port.
All those buttons
Every time you see a news story that says, “Apple finally ships two-button mouse,” I want you to send the writer a polite note asking for a correction. That’s because this is not a two-button mouse. There are four ways to click, so we’re calling it a four-button mouse, although none of them are traditional buttons.
The Mighty Mouse provides four buttons that you can programme and a scroll ball on top. There’s a primary (single click) and secondary (control-click) button on either side of the scroll ball; the force-sensing side button, which looks like two buttons (you can squeeze both buttons at once or just press one with your thumb); and the scroll ball button, activated when you simply click on the scroll ball.
The old Apple Pro Mouse clicked without a button – you just pressed on it and it would depress slightly, causing a click. The Mighty Mouse works in just the same way, except now the mouse pivots along its midline, so that a press on the left half of the mouse is not the same as a press along the right half. (Actually, when you get the mouse it is the same. Apple is probably worried that many novice users might be confused by a multi-button mouse, so by default Apple’s software sets both buttons to generate a standard click.)
The scroll ball is very useful and perfectly sensitive, scrolling 360 degrees, so when you want to pan around a Photoshop image or QuarkXPress layout, for example, you need not hold down a modifier key on your keyboard or use the window’s scroll bars. While Apple says you can scroll with any finger, it only seems practical to scroll with your index finger, which will probably get very tired, and maybe even sore, if you use the mouse all day long. I also noticed that scrolling works with varying degrees of smoothness in various applications.
The scroll ball is small (and round, not oval like most scroll wheels I’ve seen). It’s easy to scroll, both up and down and from side to side. Even diagonal scrolling seems to work fine. And it’s also clickable, giving the Mighty Mouse its fourth programmable button.
The standard Apple mouse has two indentations on either side, but they aren’t clickable buttons – they were meant for you to grab so that you could keep a click going as you performed a long drag operation. The Mighty Mouse has the indentations, too, but they’re not superfluous anymore: apply pressure to them both and you’ve discovered another mouse button. (These two indentations are not separately programmable; Apple’s software indicates that they’re meant to be used together as a single button.) There’s a slight amount of give when you press them, and a synthesized click.
These force-sensing buttons proved a little difficult to use in my testing. When I wanted to use them, I had to stop, locate the buttons with my fingers, and squeeze with the proper degree of intensity, which was more difficult than it needed to be. In addition, when I tried to click just one of the buttons with my thumb, I often inadvertently clicked the right button when trying to get the right leverage. This squeeze button may not be the most popular button for the terminally uncoordinated.
The slight (and quiet) scroll ball’s gear-turning sound and the click of the force-sensing button is audible only with the mouse plugged into a computer. Apple says the sound comes from a tiny speaker inside the mouse. There appears to be no way to turn off the sounds if you don’t want to hear them, but they’re not so loud that you would need to.
Just being practical
So about that scroll ball: while I haven’t had my Mighty Mouse for many days, I am already wondering how I’d clean it if the scroll ball gets gunked up with finger oils and such. Apple says that to clean it, you just moisten a cloth and dab the scroll ball (it doesn’t come out of its casing).
Ergonomically speaking, the Mighty Mouse is no great shakes. Everyone’s physical mechanics are different, but for most people, squeezing something narrow, small, and made of hard acrylic for hours could cause some strain and pain to tendons. Mice already cause a lot of trouble for many people due to the repetitive use of the shoulder and forearm.
If Apple really wanted to innovate its input devices the way it has revolutionized so many other products, it should have made something both beautiful and comfortable.
Until this mouse comes supplied with new Macs – and Apple isn’t saying whether it will – you will pay for the privilege of using an Apple-designed mouse that is, well, still just a mouse, and not the most graceful one I’ve ever used. The Mighty Mouse’s £35 price tag seems a bit much for such a simple little item, but if this were a truly revolutionary mouse design, the price wouldn’t be an issue. The Mighty Mouse also has some competition: there are lots of other stylish mice with multiple buttons and scrolling capabilities (for example, Kensington’s Studio Mouse and Iridio, and Microsoft’s Optical Mouse by Starck and Wireless Optical Mouse 2.0). However, they’re not in the Apple style. If you want your multi-button mouse and its software to truly match your Mac, this is the mouse for you.