Mouse or Trackball?

A rare original post on Slashdot is from a computer user who just swapped his mouse for a trackball and is happy with the experience so far:

After ordering [a large Kensington trackball for $90] online and using it for a few days now, I don’t know how I ever lived with a mouse. The trackball has better precision, less wrist movement, and even gaming is pretty cool/easy with it (can spin it to whip around real quick, etc). All that said, it seems like trackballs have all but vanished except in medical fields (sonograms, etc) and perhaps graphic arts. I’m left insanely curious why trackballs haven’t resurfaced now that optical technologies have fixed the main problems of old trackballs (and mice).

I’m not all that thrilled with the design of the two trackballs on Kensington’s website. On my main desktop machine, ms_trackball_opticalI’ve been using a Microsoft Trackball Optical for a couple years and absolutely love it. (A pair of commenters in the original thread are also Microsoft Trackball fans, although they’re talking about a slightly different device than the one shown here.) My right palm rests on the end opposite the mouse cord, positioning the thumb perfectly for moving the ball.

Sadly, Microsoft no longer makes this device, and I’m not sure what I would do if this trackball gave up the ghost. I’ve got a couple of Bluetooth mice here and could swap one of them into full-time service . Or I might switch to a Logitech. Or maybe I should pick up a spare right now. It’s for sale here along with a bunch of others. Although the idea of spending $66 for something I might never use is pretty wasteful.

Any other trackball fans out there?

23 thoughts on “Mouse or Trackball?

  1. I used to be a big fan, but I went back to mice a year or so ago when I couldn’t find a wireless trackball that I liked (in fact, I don’t think I even found a wireless trackball at all …).

    I guess I also used to be a big Logitech fan, and had over a dozen of their mice and trackballs in operation at one point, but I got tired of flaky drivers and so an instant improvement when I switched to Microsoft and IntelliPoint.

  2. I’ve been using an MS trackball now for about 5 years(maybe more!) and I love it.

    I’m not sure what to do when mine gives up the ghost either….eBay?

  3. I used to be! A big problem I had with trackballs was that certain kinds of work I was doing didn’t lend themselves easily to it, and I always had to reorient myself when sitting down at a system with a mouse.

  4. I’ve been using trackballs for years for ergonomic reasons. The Microsoft Trackball Explorer is by far the best one I’ve ever used (and which I am using now). My biggish hand actually fits over it like a glove. I don’t know what I’ll do when they (I have one at home and one at work) give up the ghost.

    Probably cry, then E-Bay.

  5. I just switched to a trackball 2 weeks ago after developing some mouse-induced arm pain. The trackball is better but I still get sore, so I think I need some kind of arm support.

    I got the Kensington one because I have used the thumb-operated trackballs in the past (my sister loves hers) and I didn’t care for it. Unfortunately Kensington refuses to make a Vista version of MouseWorks. I found a free alternative (X Mouse Button Control) that enables the extra buttons, but it’s not as featured as MouseWorks is supposed to be. One thing I do like about the Kensington is that it is ambidextrous. I’m right handed and that is how I use it, but I tried it for a while with my left and think it would be a lot easier to get used to than using a mouse in the non-dominant hand. I find it slightly harder to make precise movements with the trackball, but using the “clickLock” feature helps.

    I have seen nothing but praise for the Microsoft trackballs… too bad they discontinued them.

  6. Does anyone make something like this for lefties? I can find trackballs that you use with your fingers, but nothing that has a thumb operated trackball.

  7. I used to use a Logitech Marble trackball (the type that you use your fingers to move the ball) and loved it. It was great for run and gun games. I gave it up about two years ago when it eventually started getting worn and the ball stopped rolling as good as it once did. I used it for about two years.

  8. I’ve had extensive experience with trackballs. I’ve used them at home ever since I got my first Windows machine in 1995.

    I’ve used Kensington for 12 years. Their advantages:

    Amazing sensitivity. I could just touch the trackball ever so slightly to move it. Your wrists and fingers feel very good for that!
    One of the few trackballs with a wheel.
    Extra buttons (not that I used them much.)

    I gave up on Kensington, though I was loyal to them for a very long time in computer years. Why:
    * Kensington trackballs are mechanical unlike Logitech (granted, Logitech had the patent on optical) and they need cleaning constantly, and the only way to do a good cleaning is to dismantle it. Kensington even posted disassembly instructions!
    * My last two trackballs (I owned three over that course of time) died on me. The first one that died exhibited an erratic X axis response (the pointer would jump sideways) that got worse over time. The tech agreed I had a bad device and sent me a new one. A year or so later, the same thing happened to the new one. I gave up.

    I run Vista so I wasn’t able to use their drivers, even if the hardware still worked.

    I now use a Logitech Marble Mouse–it’s all there is out there! I wish it had a wheel, though it does have Vista drivers. I’ve thought of buying 5 of them to have in stock when mine dies.

  9. I have two of the Trackball Optical 1.0 units like your picture. One at my office and one on my main Windows machine at home. Before that, I had (and still have) the previous white trackballs that MS used to make. I switched to the Optical because the rollers on the old white ones required constant cleaning and because with the white ones, you used your fingers for the trackball. The thumb did double duty on it, with both the left and right mouse buttons on the side.

    The best part about the trackballs is that people don’t use my computer. Most mouse users find it so counterintuitive, it’s like the first time they sat down at a computer.
    It will be a sad day when one of these Opticals croak.

  10. I’ve been using Logitech trackball mice for years. I didn’t even know MS made one. I currently have two cordless and a corded trackman wheel. I also have a corded trackman marble wheel. I think they are all great trackballs and have all worked fine for me on W2K and XP.

    I also have a corded MS Intellimouse that I use sometimes because I can use it with either hand.

  11. IBM used to make a TrackPoint keyboard. Also, no longer and my keyboard died. I still insist on using TrackPoints (aka “eraserheads” or “stick pointers”) on my laptops.

    I switched from regular mice to trackballs some time ago to deal with space issues. I use a Logitech Trackman Wheel at home, but I also bought a handheld trackball from Fellowes (MicroTrac) that requires no deskspace, but sadly lacks a scroll wheel.

    I also use a remote control wand with my desktop. I figure the more I/O devices I have for various tasks the better. Thank goodness for USB to deal with the techno-trivia of using them all at once.

  12. I have used the Kensington Turbo Mouse trackball, the one with the large ball, about the size of a billiard. I absolutely loved it on my Mac, wasn’t as wild about it on Windows and went back to a traditional mouse. That was five or six years ago; since, I’ve been thinking about giving a USB model of the turbo mouse a try.

    Can’t stand those trackballs with the tiny balls. I like the big ball because I can twiddle it with my fingertips. I’d really love to try a trackball taken from an old Missile Command game.

  13. A few notes:

    Ed: Why do you see so few thumb mice? Because study after study have shown that they tend to be less effective than other designs. The thumb’s limited range of motion compared to the arm or fingertip control of a large ball tended to reduce the happiness of most users. There are very few thumb balls made these days. Some folks (like you) love them, but many more didn’t, hence the low sales numbers and the discontinuation of the line.

    Of course, there are very few trackballs made these days at all, which is a shame.

    David Mosian: The current Kensington trackballs are all optical; they no longer make a mechanical one, nor have they for years now. Their mechanicals were more sensitive than the earliest optical trackballs, but the opticals improved quickly while Kensington stuck with mech longer than they should have. They finally switched over, and now are all optical.

    Personally, I’ve been a Kensington fan for over 10 years now, and have a Kensington Expert trackball on every computer I touch. They really are one of the best Human UI devices available for the price (outside of the “ergonomic” and “ergo-medical” devices, can run to hundreds of dollars for a quality unit). I find the Logitech models to be of relatively low quality, and feel uncomfortable to my hand.

  14. I have been using a Logitech Trackball for over 8 years now and I now that they have a wireless trackball – it can’t get any better!

  15. I have been using a Logitech Marble Mouse trackball for 6 years and I absolutely LOOOOOVE it. I just wish it had a scroll button and when it falls, the ball rolls under the desk. Those are my only complaints. Otherwise I could not live without this trackball. I use my computer a minimum of 6 hours a day, each day.

  16. I have used a “Logitech TrackMan Marble FX Trackball” for 10 years, and I love it. And now that I think about it, I use it at home, and a plain 2-button with scroll wheel/button at work, and I transfer between the two without thinking at all.

    I don’t use the extra buttons on the trackball, though I did play around with it for a little, but I couldn’t really come up with anything that was particularly useful for a mouse to do besides three buttons (left, right and paste (auto-select on highlight)).

    I recently played around with a G4 trackpad, and I love the two finger dragging in any direction is just like selecting the scroll bar. I need to see if that is available for my laptop’s trackpad.

    I have never found mouse or trackball gestures useful, though fun to play with for a couple days.

  17. Following an arm and shoulder injury, my company’s ergonomic expert switched me to a Microsoft optical trackball as pictured at the head of this thread. It was great to start with, but soon became sticky and jerky. I discovered that I needed to clean it so frequently that it became counter-productive. (No; my hands are not unusually dirty!) I tried various cleaning regimes, but none worked well, and some made the device almost unusable dues to stickiness or loss of motion detection.

    Q.1 Does anyone have any advice on how to clean this device?

    Q.2 Does anyone know of any SCIENTIFIC studies done on current trackballs to assess their ergonomic effectiveness?

    Best regards

  18. After over five years’ faithful service (up to 12 hours a day), my Microsoft Trackball Optical Mouse just started misbehaving. It stops working whenever it’s jostled, cutting out in the middle of use, causing me to have to keep unplugging and re-plugging it into the USB port. My search for a new one led me here, where, D’oh!, I learned that I wouldn’t be able to get a new one.

    I suspect the only reason more people don’t use trackballs is the slight adjustment period. They don’t know what they’re missing.


    The medical evidence and personal experience is overwhelming why I am VERY surprised to ONLY se one trackball mouse in each store besides 45 regular, regular, dated, mice known to cause the carpal tunnel syndrome.

    I would, if I had to, pay 300 dollars for my Logitech Trackbal mice, fortunately it is only 19 dollars.


  20. Like most other avid fans of trackball input devices, I absolutely love it. I tried using one when my arm started hurting using a standard mouse all the time. 5+ years and no pain. I guess mine stays relatively clean most of the time. I’ve never had problems with it getting dirty often. (clean every month which to me is nothing) I like the fact I can sling the track with my thumb and it keeps on going …once you get the hang of that, the thumb range of motion limitation doesn’t apply.

  21. What’s the best way to clean a Microsoft Explorer Trackball which is sticky? We have tried soap & water, rubbing alcohol…. Thanks.

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