I Hate Mice

I hate mice. A mouse is a bad excuse for a pointing device and an even worse drawing and manipulation device. Mice take up valuable desk space – they must be freely moved around on a surface to function. That surface must be just the right texture, hence the advent of mouse pads. The ball collects dirt and dust which gums up the works. Optical mice solve the later problem, but otherwise are no improvement. Because you must use your whole arm to move it, rather than your hand or fingers, a mouse is more energy intensive and a cause of user fatigue. Face it, mice are difficult to control. Why they remain the most popular GUI control device is beyond me. I surmise it must be a conspiracy. There can’t be that much stupidity.

The trackball was a great improvement. The device was stationary and so didn’t need much deskspace. If the ball was large and the buttons positioned in ergonomic relationship, it gave the user much finer control. Then some manufacturers made the ball much smaller and therefore harder to control. However, many newer trackballs are designed for thumb control. The thumb doesn’t have much dexterity – bad idea. Ergonomic? Not. You see, the best control of a trackball is by the middle finger, and if the ball is of sufficient size, say the size of a ping-pong ball, the index and fourth finger can offer even more control. The best trackball I ever used was built into a Chicony keyboard – a large ball on the right side and the three buttons on the left below the keys so that the hands never had to leave the keyboard and weren’t far from the typing position. The user didn’t have to attempt to manipulate the ball and push buttons with one hand – what a brilliant idea! Unfortunately, most trackball keyboards used very small balls with the buttons surrounding the ball, another very bad design, especially for drag-and-drop, because the user must keep a button pushed in while moving the ball with another finger. User to Earth: “Is there any intelligent life here?”

The touchpad was another sort of good idea, and has been popular on laptop computers, but also suffered from inadequate implementation. The idea of double tapping the surface to execute commands wasn’t well thought out. The surface also suffers from dirt and chemical contamination. Moist hands can cause strange behavior. There’s still a couple of standard pushbuttons for other functions. The pads aren’t sufficiently large to allow fine finger movement for drawing.

The IBM Trackpoint device for laptops wasn’t a bad idea because the user’s hands didn’t need to leave the keyboard, but fine control isn’t possible, so it’s a lousy device for drawing and manipulating objects.

The drawing tablet is a fine instrument for drawing and manipulation of objects and can even be used as an alternate pointing device, but it’s another sizable device alongside the keyboard. Using a pen, as if on paper, is a natural function. Some of the better boards also have a puck with additional controls to replace the pen, but that’s just a supermouse. The drawback is that good drawing tablets are expensive.

Still, there’s no ideal pointing/drawing/manipulating device for GUIs. I’ve often thought that a device similar to a game joystick might be a workable replacement for a mouse. There is already software allowing the user to use a joystick as a GUI control device. Joysticks have three dimensional movement and a thumb button on top. It could be designed with additional buttons on the stick under the tips of the fingers for more functions. The problem is that one hand must be away from the keyboard.

The ideal computer control would be voice command, which already exists, however imperfectly, but is improving slowly. Then, we could even eliminate the keyboard. In the meantime, a well designed trackball gets my vote as the best available device. It’s a shame that they are disappearing and there’s no better device in the offing. Optical control anyone?



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