1 button, 2 or 3?

Apple sticks with its one-button mouse, even though OS X recognizes it, and many PC users are familiar with them; Is it time to move into the new millennium?

Of all the differences between a Mac and a PC, few are as obvious as the mouse.

Mice for Apple Computer Inc.'s Mac have but one button, while mice for Microsoft Corp.'s PC have at least two and usually a scroll wheel nestled between them.

As a Mac user since 1993, and an Apple IIGS user before that, I have subscribed to the one-button mouse philosophy for a long time. Like many Mac users, I’ve always thought of the one-button mouse as one of the Mac’s distinguishing features.

But I recently bought a two-button optical mouse with a scroll wheel to avoid my iBook’s track pad.

I had a revelation.

Plugging the new mouse into my desktop tower Mac to test it, Mac's OS X software recognized it instantly. After using the new mouse for a few hours, I knew the Apple Pro mouse that came with the tower Mac was destined for the iBook’s carrying case.

I realize that some in the Mac community may consider this blasphemy. The one-button mouse, perhaps out of sheer longevity, has become an article of faith with many Mac users. Whenever the issue of Apple adding a second button or a scroll wheel to its mouse comes up, words fly.

"I hate two-button mice SO much," wrote someone to a MacRumors.com forum in March in response to a posted rumor that Apple had created such a mouse and had planned to introduce it this fall.

"Why would Apple go and change their whole one-button concept?" wrote another Mac user. "If you want one more button, go out and get another USB mouse with more buttons -- it’s not that expensive."

But those already using a two-button mouse were defiant. "I wouldn’t give up my other button and the scroll wheel ever," one convert wrote. "Not ever. And I think I’m way more efficient with these features."

"Efficient" is the operative here. With a one-button mouse, Mac users need only to press the control key while clicking to get a contextual menu -- a pop-up list of options that varies according to where the mouse pointer happens to be.

And navigating through long documents requires moving the mouse pointer along the scrollbar on the right side of the Mac's window.

The right button makes contextual menus available with one click. Now that I have a second button, I make far more use of contextual menus. And I’ve become so accustomed to using the scroll wheel to browse Web pages that my finger keeps looking for it on the single-button Apple mouse on my Mac at work.

Multi-button mice provide the same conveniences in Mac OS 9, though support is not built in. Enabling the extra features in OS 9 requires the extra step of installing a control panel -- a simple drag-and-drop operation.

But with my eyes now opened to the advantages of a more capable mouse, I’m annoyed at Apple's stubborn commitment to the single-button variety. Dozens of third-party mice are available, but why would Apple include support for these devices in OS X but fail to supply such a device itself?

When asked, Apple touts the support OS X provides for such Universal Serial Bus-input devices as joysticks, trackballs and multi-button mice -- but the company won’t comment on whether a two-button mouse is in the works, or ever will be.

This stance isn’t surprising, as Apple never comments on unannounced products. Still, it doesn’t answer the overriding question: Why no two-button mouse?

It most likely may have something to do with history.

The the one-button mouse dates back to 1980, the beginnings of Apple’s Macintosh project, four years before the machine was introduced to the public.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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