Counterpoint: Viva La Mouse!

Counterpoint: Viva La Mouse!

Gizmodo US’ Mat Honan is rather emphatic about his desire to kill off the most humble of peripherals, the computer mouse. I think he’s dead wrong. Now, Mat’s entitled to his opinion, and if he’s tired of mice, that’s fine. For what it’s worth, I reckon he’s just having a bit of a whinge, given that I’m yet to hit a system where the mouse was an absolute mandatory part of the operating experience. The touchpad (or trackpoint, although I’m pretty sure that’s only a technology that Lenovo still uses) is standard on notebooks. On a desktop, you’re free to plug in whatever peripherals you like, so if a touchpad makes more sense for you, go nuts. Heck, you could go in entirely the opposite direction, as Lifehacker editor Gus does, and rely almost solely on keyboard shortcuts if that takes your fancy.

I think Mat’s also mistaking the kinds of gestures that we do with smaller devices such as tablets and phones with the everyday things that are done on computers; two dimensional actions for which a mouse still makes a heck of a lot of sense. Yes, the mouse has a long history dating back to 1963, but it’s not as though we’re all still using the blocks of wood that Douglas Englebart first prototyped with. Equally, Mat’s suggestion that a mouse makes no sense in a multi-tabbed, multi-app world doesn’t make a lick of sense either; it’s just a matter of approach. A mouse plus alt-TAB or ALT-~ works wonders, you know?

I’ve heard the argument about repetitive stress injuries relating to mice over the years, and I’ve always come to the same conclusion. Yes, it’s certainly possible to buy mice that are more or less ergonomic — although that depends on the physical makeup of your hands and wrists. Switching to touch or gesture won’t magically solve those problems, and could well make them worse; they’re called repetitive injuries because you keep on doing the same actions, and the only way to avoid them is to stop and take a break every once in a while.

I’m a big user of Apple’s products, with one key exception; its peripherals. The Apple keyboard is a pretty thing, but it’s only barely passable as a good keyboard — I’ve made my choices in the matter of keyboards rather abundantly clear here — and its mice are… terrible. Really, truly, woefully bad. There’s little that’s magic about the magic mouse, and its predecessor, the mighty mouse was near legendary for its ability to attract gunk. The Magic Trackpad is fine hardware if it suits you — but you can guess what my response to that is as well.

Mat’s also clearly held up in a utopia of three dimensional computer usage. For that, I’m still… waiting. I’ve been waiting a long time; while I’ve seen 3D style interfaces come and go, I’ve never seen one that’s as efficient as the two dimensional metaphors used for most computing tasks right now. Guess what works well within that metaphor? That’s right — the humble mouse.

Finally, Mat’s wrapped up by commenting that mice can rule in first person shooters. Sorry Mat, but if they’re good for precision in first person shooters, they’re good for precision in other, less trivial pursuits as well. I’d much rather have the choice of mice present than an IT landscape where touch or gesture are the only choices.

Image: Webhamster