Dirk Dot Net

Creator of useful things. Based in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

Best Pointing Device - My Vote Goes to the Marble Mouse

Something wasn't right. Over the past few years computer mice had been getting better and better in terms of tech: Laser replaced optical replaced the mechanical ball, resolution went from a few hundred dpi to a few thousand, and wireless options are getting faster (Bluetooth) and more reliable at ever larger distances from the machine. Still, I found all the gadgets and mice I tried ended up in the drawer sooner rather than later, making me go back to the notebook's built-in touchpad that some famouse (Freudian typo left standing) bloggers prefer, then I looked at gaming laser mice that cost hundreds and weigh hundreds of grams, and still felt the strain in my lower right arm and hand. The higher resolution might have been one of the culprits, as I found the mouse pointer moving ever so slightly when clicking, making the lower right arm muscles tense up to increase precision. This can lead to repetitive strain injuries and even carpal tunnel syndrome if you tend to press your wrist down to steady the mouse. There even is mouse smoothing software to effectively make the movements of the mouse less precise and smoother. However, this software does not work if you're using two monitors.

One fine day I tried the Logitech Marble Mouse, which has been sold for a number of years now and it is quite economical (under 30 US$ here in Thailand, probably a bit less in the "West"). It's ugly as dog, or rather as a rat with its head smashed in:

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Trackballs were popular pointing devices in the early to mid-nineties, before the touchpad became the device of choice for notebook computers. And horrible they were, screechy and imprecise, accumulating dirt and grime, absolutely no match even for the heinous mice of the day.

Modern trackballs shouldn't suffer from those bad memories. The Marble Mouse shows that the trackball benefits from optical technology even more than mice: The self contained pointing unit is by design independent from the surface the device rests on, making it (after some practice) more agile and precise than an optical or even a laser mouse. Also, hand and lower arm transition very naturally from the keyboard, you just move the hand right (for right-handers) to the stationary Marble Mouse, no adjustment of the hand is necessary as it is to grip the mouse which might move to a different spot on your desk every time you use it. And, your fingertips continue with pointing work in the same angle and position as they were doing typing work on the keyboard and vice versa. This keeps your fingers, hands and lower arms more relaxed than with either mouse or touchpad. Clicking is done with the thumb, which feels more natural than with an outstretched index finger. The Marble Mouse also easy to clean (the ball pops out very easily), quite sturdy and great for left-handers as it's perfectly symmetrical. As said before, it's surface independent (much more so than even the best laser mice) and if you like working on your notebook lying in bed or on the couch, you should try the Marble Mouse.

Then again, while Logitech build great devices (hardware), I've found their software (SetPoint or whatever it's called) to be consistently buggy and bloated. While YMMV I recommend not installing Logitech software but rather get Marble Mouse Scroll Wheel, a free utility to let the ball behave like a mouse wheel. Similar functionality (trackball behaves like mouse wheel) also works under Linux with the latest Kernels but you better google for the details. Hope it helps.

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