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Multi-button mice are great timesavers

mouse picOne of the first things I tell new Mac users is to ditch the one-button mouse that Apple provides. Sure, it's simple and easy to use, but it also has limited power and you end up using way too many keyboard modifiers to get things done. There are lots and lots of multi-button mice out there, and all of them work (to at least some degree) with OS X: the second mouse button is functional by default, and will bring up the contextual menu -- that's the menu you normally reach with a control-click.

But for the most productive computing experience, find yourself a mouse that comes with OS X drivers, so that you can program all of the buttons. Logitech makes a full line of OS X-compatible mice, as do Kensington (wired, mobile) and Microsoft (check compatibility for each device; some are PC only). But this isn't a post about which mouse to use (I've chosen the Wireless Intellimouse Explorer, used for the icon in this story), but more a discussion on how to best put all those buttons to use once you have a multi-button mouse. So I thought I'd share my configuration, and ask what others might be using...

The Intellimouse Explorer has five buttons (two main buttons, a scroll wheel button, and two buttons under the thumb) plus a scroll wheel with "tilt" side-to-side scrolling. Here's how I have the five buttons set up:

  • Left button: Click
  • Right button: Control-click
  • Scroll wheel button: Dashboard (F12)
  • Top thumb button: Exposé all-windows mode (F9)
  • Bottom thumb button: Activate DejaMenu. If you haven't seen this handy little program, it's a huge timesaver. It puts any program's menubar one keyboard combo away -- no mousing required. I just assigned its keyboard combo to the thumb button, and presto, menus wherever I want them.

So that's how I have my mouse set up. I find it a huge timesaver, especially the thumb button tied to DejaMenu. No more wasted time moving to the top left to grab File when it's a simple mouse click away. In general, I love the mouse and I've gotten very used to how I've got it set up.

The one thing I find lacking in the Microsoft software is that you can't assign custom commands to modified button clicks -- i.e. I'd love to be able to assign Command-Option-button 4 to something other than the button 4 default. I think this should be possible, given that OS X can read command- and control-clicks, but Microsoft's software doesn't allow it.

Anyone else have any interesting configurations, and/or mouse recommendations?


35 thoughts on “Multi-button mice are great timesavers”

  1. Apart from Cocoa Gestures which allows simple mouse gestures in any application? (Freeware)

    Well, there are a couple of things a standard mouse does on it's own: Holding down the shift key while scrolling scrolls horizontally. Or pressing the middle button/scroll wheel on any link in Safari opens that page in a tab in the background.

  2. I have set the scroll whell button to cmd-click, so I can open new tabs in Safari with one click... (using Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical)

  3. this really isn't a usability hack, just a word of warning, and a recommendation.

    one thing about Logitech mices...unless they say that it's compatible with their control center preference pane thing, it ain't gonna work. there was nothing better than getting the MediaPlay mouse hoping that it would work, and it didn't.

    well, until USB Overdrive 10.3.9 or whatever it is now came out. since then, I've been able to do anything with any of the keys on this mouse. including all the stuff that it advertises on the box, but doesn't deliver.

    Logitech mice are great, their software is horrible. Kensington mice are horrible, but their software is great. Microsoft is...ahem...Microsoft.

  4. One of the first things I tell new Mac users is ... that, apart from digital imaging and similar tasks, you can "ditch" the mouse altogether, because on a Mac you may control much more with the keyboard than on, say, on a Windows computer. For me, this is much more important than a mouse with hyperspace overdrive and built-in pizza-service.

  5. I'm using the Logitech Marble Mouse(A Trackball) here, but I didn't bother with their software. I don't care much for third party drivers...

    My mouse has the two main right and left buttons, two small right and left buttons above them, and I think there is a way to activate a fifth by clicking two together, but I haven't bothered with that one...

    My setup:
    Left - Click
    Right - Control-Click
    Small left - All Windows (F9)
    Small Right - Desktop (F11)

    I like my Apple Mouse, and stuck with it for a while, but it's so much easier to use a 2+ button mouse now that I got one!

  6. (Previous comment continued) Although, on a second thought, Apple and some app developers could do better in that area. I sometimes use Interface Builder (from the Developer Tools) to customize keyboard shortcuts, but that's probably not an option for many users.

  7. Web Maestro Clay

    I'd love to ignore the Logitech Control Center s/w (sucks! Kensington MouseWare s/w is much better!), but I want to use the extra buttons... How does one do that w/o the LCC s/w? The worst part about LCC is that it's only got global changes. I can't specify settings for each app (which you can do in Kensington MouseWare).

    So how do I do this w the my Logitech mouse w/o using LCC?

  8. Aside from sharing my configuration, I'd like to add that I can't imagine why one would choose a mouse over a trackball. Moving a finger across a ball is so much quicker + more ergonomic than holding + dragging the whole device.

    As for priority for those precious few buttons, I don't choose something I can use one keyboard key for, like expose. I'm a strong keyboard command user, but especially find ease with using a single fkey.

    I use a Kensington TurboBall, it's 4 buttons programmed with click, rightclick, command-click, + shift-click (except in browsers, this is command-w).

    There's more I won't bother listing with cording + the scroll wheel as a button.

    My highest priorities are right click (that's translated from a lefty's reverse, as mine is technically a left click); + command-click for opening links in tabs behind, + non-sequential selections in the finder.

  9. "Aside from sharing my configuration, I’d like to add that I can’t imagine why one would choose a mouse over a trackball. Moving a finger across a ball is so much quicker + more ergonomic than holding + dragging the whole device."

    1. Trackballs are ineffective if one plays any FPSs.
    2. Some people might have arthritic fingers, in which case, the trackball is much more painful.
    3. Personal preference.

    That said, it's all about different strokes for different folks. Some people prefer to use a trackpad rather than a mouse or trackball. Some even like tablets. Even others like those gyration mice (which I must admit are really slick).

    I'd also like to recommend (like others) that people check out USB Overdrive for multi-button mice. I couldn't get the most out of my Logitech MX1000 (hands down the best mouse I've ever used) until I got a copy (and the developer subsequently updated to support side-scrolling). Bluetooth mouse support (for Microsoft's and Logitech's mice, which aren't supported by their own software) is in the pipe as well.

  10. Man, this is the best tip I've read for a long time. I have a Logitech MX510 optical mouse that I have definitely not been getting the best use out of. Now, using most of your suggestions and a couple mods, Dashboard, Expose, and DejaMenu, without taking my hand off the mouse. Yippee!

  11. Good thread, and very helpful.

    Normally straight after the "Mac OS X on Intel" rumours surface, the "Apple should make x-button mice" usually also do the rounds. Thank goodness this wasn't one of those.

    And after reading the threads, you can see why: which one should they include? Everyone has different needs. One button is great for everything. If you want more, go get what you want and quitya-bitchin'. Be thankful that your OS supports it.

  12. Not to sound trollish, but I have to add this in: While multi-button mice are definitely great timesavers (I used a Logitech MX500—which has about 8 buttons—for a couple years), Apple's one-button mouse seems to win in the ergonomics department. With my MX500, I had terrible Repetitive Stress Injuries – caused, I assume, when one's fingers tweak themselves when trying to press all the little buttons. When we got a new iMac G5, I decided to try the one-button mouse, and now my RSI is almost completely gone (even though I spend MORE time on the computer now!). The fact that the whole mouse is one big button means you use your entire hand to press it, so it puts less stress on individual fingers. Also, I think the fact that it's smaller than the MX500 helps. Oh, and, scroll wheels are the real killer – when you move your middle finger that much, it goes right up through the rest of your arm (you can feel it).

    So, multi-button mice are fine, but my hand is much happier now due to Apple's mouse. Too bad I have no use for my MX500 now though.

  13. I'm definitely in the "Apple should make a 2-button mouse as an option" camp. Or, I guess, knock $20 off the price if I want to buy their machine without the near-useless mice Apple makes.

    As for the previous poster who suggested that the Mac was more keyboard-only friendly than Windows, I would say that they must be very inexperienced with Windows. One of the few comparative complaints about the Mac I have is how much easier it is to navigate keyboard-only on Windows. Plus, the modifier and keyboard commands tend to be (gasp!) more consistent on Windows, if a little more obtuse. (Who thought of Control-F4 for "close window"?!)

    If the Mac ever does take off, I'd want to be a Logitech investor. Their mice are definitely first-rate, and so much better than Apple mice that Apple should probably just buy them out and start re-branding their mice.

  14. Uhm Sam, it's alt-f4. (unless that was a joke, and i'm just slow today)

    Anyway, good article. I just switched my mice now.
    Using my 5-button Razer instead of my 3-button Logitech wireless.
    I'm getting used to the buttons, but not to having a cable again... :-)


  15. Actually, ctrl-f4 does close the sub-window (but not the main window) in Windows multi-document applications. That said, Windows is idiotic and ctrl-w is 1000x clearer.

  16. I use the Kensington Studio Mouse Wireless. I personally like the scroll sensor to a wheel, although it is definitely less ergonomic. Kensington software is great. I have chord set for all windows and third button set for horizontal scrolling. One thing it does not do is let you get a faster scroll wheel by pressing a button on the keyboard, so I use Smart Scroll ( ).

    I like your suggestions for button uses because they are only things that you would need the mouse to do. I like keyboard shortcuts, but having exposé as a keyboard short cut is overkill (mouse, keyboard, mouse). This is why I like the ability to set screen corners for exposé actions.

    As for ball mice, they just suck. How could moving your thumb repetitively be more ergonomic than moving your arm/wrist. I doesn't take a genius to tell which one is stronger.

  17. Regarding Martin's comments.... I disagree with the fact that a Mac is control with only the keyboard than Windoze. One of the few things that frustrates me since I switched to Mac is the inability to completely control Photoshop with my Keyboard. If you could remember them all, you can use every menu item contained in Photoshop on Windows. Not so with my Mac.

  18. I have a Microsoft Intellimouse Optical with an extra button on each side. I assigned them to copy and paste and use it all the time. I use them all the time and it drives me nuts when I get on a computer without that setup.

  19. And the winner today for making me laugh.... Carl! "Ctrl-W is 1000x clearer.. Eh I mean Cmd-W"

    So which is it? Shift, Cmd, Ctrl, or Option?

    Apple kills me by thinking that trading a mouse button for an extra keyboard modifier adds simplicity to anyone's life. Not to mention that the Cmd key doesn't even have a pronouncable name on it. Or that the option key is referred to in the menus by some alien symbol. Nice job with UI development.

    Oh and Windows can be completely controlled by keyboard without even setting any handicap settings in the control panel. Sit down at someone else's Windows computer and the keyboard combinations work already.

    Another feature I'd like OS X to copy from Windows is the ability to get to exactly the menu you want by pressing Alt-F (for File menu for example) and then every item in the File menu has a different underlined letter. Hit that letter and you've actioned that menu item. So in Windows I can get to any menu item without directly knowing it's shortcut because the letters are underlined for me. An example is that "Alt-F x y" Will select E_x_it from the _F_ile menu and when prompted if I want to save my file, _Y_es is an option. Very straight forward and no memorization of shortcuts is required.

  20. Also, in Tiger, does anyone else have the problem that scroll wheeling in Safari is painfully slow when done a notch at a time. Apple has implemented an acceleration curve for the mouse wheel and so you have to actively spin the wheel to get any reasonable amount of movement in Safari. It's better on my Logitech mouse, but the MS mouse is pretty painful.

  21. So this is what it looks like inside a Robservatory.
    Nice site!

    I also use the Microsoft Wireless Intellimouse. Via USB Overdrive I have my mouse set up as follows:
    Left button: Click
    Right button: Control-Click
    Scroll wheel click: F11 for the Expose Desktop option
    Fourth Button: Command-N for a New Window
    Fifth Button: It has never worked.

    I would agree that a multi-button mouse is a great tool.
    The Intellimouse is nice, but again, the fifth button has never worked.
    A compatibility check is key prior to purchase.

  22. I have a 5 button Kensington mouse. I configured buttons 4 and 5 to use the ZOOM - UNZOOM feature from the Universal access preferences. I find the mouse buttons are more convenient than keyboard shortcuts for this.
    I think the ZOOM feature is one of the great unsung wonders of OSX.
    It certainly simplifies reading small type on webpages, and blogs...

  23. I think i've come up with a fairly unique setup using my logitech mouse.

    left click = standard left click
    scroll wheel button = page down
    right click = Command+Click
    far left button = Command+Left Arrow
    far right button = Command+Right Arrow
    nav button = exposé all windows

    The idea behind using CMD+Click for the right button is that I didnt want to forget how to switch back to a single button mouse.. and by using CMD+Click instead, web browsing has become 100 times easier. just Right click on a link to open as a tabbed window. The far left and far right buttons go back/forth throughout the browser history. And the "page down" scroll wheel button makes it quicker to go through larger pages.

  24. You can say a lot about Microsoft but in my book, they make great peripherals. I've been using (heavily) the same MS Intellimouse Explorer for 4 years now, on different macs. It's still very precise, reliable and doesn't fail to click when it runs up to its own cord, like the corded professional Apple Optical mouse does.

    I'm afraid al cordless mouse won't cut it for me, the mousecord doesn't bother me that much and I'm not looking forward to all the battery and connections hassles. The last few years, I've not once had to charge my mouse, or change the batteries. No separate sleep-issues: when the mac is on, the mouse is too.

    The drivers are modified USB Overdrive software. On a Mac, it had the ability tot set options for each individual application, which wasn't possible with the Windows software.
    One thing: after an archive and install, like the last Tiger one, I have to hunt down a previous version of the driver, the 5.1 will not recognize my relatively old mouse, but the 5.0 version does.

    My setup is:left: click, right :ctrl-click, back and forward button: back and forward (works in browsers as well as in the Finder. Scroll wheel button: bring DragThing to front. For some applocations I've set seprate options, like a different scrolling speed in FireFox (slower) and iPhoto (faster).

    I know a lot of professional users that ditch the mouse in favor of a tablet. I have wacom, but rarely use it. I'm a redblooded, righthanded mouse user. In 14 years of mac-use, I've had no mouse related RSI issues. (Don't cross your fingers on that while mousing)

  25. "Not to mention that the Cmd key doesn’t even have a pronouncable name on it."

    Unlike the Windows key, which is perfectly pronouncable as a symbol.

  26. "Unlike the Windows key, which is perfectly pronouncable as a symbol."

    Yes the Windows key is an abomination, but then again it's useless so you can ignore it or pop the key off the keyboard. Try that with Cmd, Option, Ctrl, or Shift on a Mac board. Gotta love those intuitive 5 finger key combinations. :)

  27. "I think the ZOOM feature is one of the great unsung wonders of OSX.
    It certainly simplifies reading small type on webpages, and blogs…"

    Or you could just make the text bigger. Just a thought.

  28. Nobody Important

    I just gotta chime in here - Trackballs are ineffective if you play FPS? I think not! I regularly wipe the floor with people using normal mice. I am much more precise with my trackball. it is also dependent on what you are used to. However, I've even had people comment on my setup (So THAT'S why you always kill me in Halo!) when they see my Kensington Turbo Mouse Pro. It must be noted however, that this is a full-sized ball, not one of the ridiculous mini-balls you control with you thumb. Those are pointless for FPS.

  29. As someone who has RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) and carpel tunnel like symptoms after working with computers since '83, I recently got a new mouse called "Evoluent 2" which I find a big help. I am not even being paid by them to say this but i thought i'd recommend it for you mousers out there. It has 6 buttons and a scroll wheel. only downside is it is corded. however it's a small price to pay to have less pains!

  30. Another benefit to Apple's move to Intel (finally!) will be that we will actually be getting 2 button mice shipped as standard bundles. Imagine that, a grown up mouse!

    No longer will it take 2 hands to do on a Mac what it takes one finger to do in Windows.

  31. Rob:

    Apple went to a lot of trouble to bring us the one button mouse
    on the 1984 mac. I appreciated it at the time and still do. I simply
    cannot be bothered to develop proficiency with input devices.

    The comments remind me of all the people who use to mock
    the mouse when the mac first arrived. They hated taking their
    hands off the keyboard. That's exactly the reason I liked
    the mouse. It gave me respite from typing, replacing a
    clerical activity with something that seemed light and
    fun (to me)--and required so little dexterity (the one button)
    that I was willing to learn it.

    Of course keyboard shortcuts and multi-button mice
    are fine things for those who like or require a
    certain kind of efficiency. I am not one of these
    persons. Moreover if I were magically
    transformed into a keyboard jockey, my rate
    of getting things done on the mac would only
    go up marginally. Most of my time is spent
    trying to figure out interfaces and or decode

    Roger Purves

    ( to Matt Schultz:

    Please do not confuse dexterity with maturity.
    I am "grown up" but would not like to use a
    "grown up" mouse, as you define it. )

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