Trackballs: A part of our heritage

Posted by & filed under Apple, Canada, Catherine, Gadgets, News, Usability.

In the summer of 2007, I learned I had a bit of an RSI problem when a can of Coke I was holding suddenly slipped from my grasp and plummeted to the ground. I couldn’t apply enough pressure with my thumb and fingers to hold it in my hand.

One short diagnosis of tennis and golfer’s elbow later, (“Catherine, you use the mouse a lot, don’t you?”) my doctor ordered me to find a less damaging pointing device. Since then, I’ve mostly relied on my laptop’s trackpad.

That’s all well and good while using my laptop, but for desktops, I needed a better solution. It’s really just Cirque that still makes USB trackpads, and those aren’t super either.

The Apple iTunes store provides a dozen or so “trackpad” apps, most of which use VNC to function as an input device alone. These let you use your wifi network to get your iPhone going as a trackpad. Surprisingly, this works fairly well, but it really does take gadget overkill to a whole new level.

So that leaves trackballs. Which is good, because I like them! [1]


So beautiful. So majestic.

Consequently, for the past 18 months, I’ve been using a Kensington Expert Mouse 7.0, the latest version of the classic ADB trackball. Kensington trackballs are so good, in fact, that sometimes I print out trackball-advocacy literature and go door-to-door, inviting people to hear the good news.

The latest version of the Kensington Expert Mouse boasts the same four buttons in a butterfly layout, as well as a one-dimensional “scroll ring” around the ball. The ring’s movement could be a little smoother, but it moves easily and is difficult to nudge by mistake.

So yes, I strongly recommend the Kensington Expert Mouse to anyone, if only because I rely on other people’s continued interest in trackballs to ensure companies keep producing them. Aside from that, trackballs are generally fairly good, egonomically speaking, and also make it more difficult for mouse-only friends to use your computer, providing you with ample opportunity to look smug. If you’re into that sort of thing, I mean.

For my keyboard, I’ve been alternating between my MacBook Pro and a 2005-series white/clear Apple keyboard. I own a Microsoft Natural Pro ergonomic keyboard, but I never liked the “mushy” feeling of the keys. The last-generation Apple keyboard’s keys aren’t buckling-spring. so it’s no Model M, but they definitely have sufficient give and are nicely clicky — within the limits of dome-switch keyboards.

Aside from feel, many Microsoft keyboards have a bit of an issue that’s always bugged me: they tend not to detect the left shift key being depressed when character entry keys have already been hit. This makes my hastily-typed smiley emoticons look terrible: ;0

I am pleased to say that Apple’s keyboards have never exhibited this problem.


Trackballs: A part of our heritage.

[1] Little-known Canadian trivia: the Royal Canadian Navy developed the first trackball back in the 1950s.

However, astute Canadians will note that this photo from Wikipedia shows the DATAR trackball assembly using flat-head screws, rather than superior, patriotic Robertson screws. For shame!

6 Responses to “Trackballs: A part of our heritage”

  1. AnneDroid

    I love my Kensington expert mouse.
    Sometimes, I think I’d use it even if I didn’t own a computer.