Apple's New Mighty Mouse

Here it comes to save the desktop!

I'm not sure why I didn't get an Apple Mighty Mouse when it first shipped a few weeks ago. I guess I just didn't see a need for yet another scroll-wheel mouse. But this week I began noticing that my old Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical mouse was flaking out with both my Apple PowerBook and IBM ThinkPad. So, I ordered Apple's latest and greatest.

Overall, it's OK. The mouse is a bit small for my large hands, which would lead to fears of carpal tunnel problems if I used the PowerBook more often. (I use a large Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 4.0 mouse daily on the PC, and I recommend it for this reason.) Apple, as usual, went for style over functionality. That's fine.

Let’s take a closer look.

Diving In
Although Apple doesn’t spell this out clearly anywhere, you need to install software from a CD before the Mighty Mouse's unique functionality will work. Then, you have to reboot, which is disconcerting (but not unusual—I had just rebooted the PowerBook, thanks to Apple's latest and humongous new security patch).

Oddly, after you reboot and plug in the mouse, it functions only as a single-button mouse. You have to know to access System Preferences, then Keyboard & Mouse to enable the right-click functionality (which Apple calls the Secondary Button). Apple's technically savvy users should have little problem with that requirement.

Playing with the Buttons
In my experience so far, the primary and second buttons on the Mighty Mouse work just fine in Tiger. I had read that the Mighty Mouse’s design was causing errant primary clicks when a secondary click was attempted, but I've experienced none of that in a week of use. The “scroll nubbin” (which some people call the “scroll pea” or “scroll nipple,” because of its diminutive size) is way, way too small. Let me say that again: It's waaaaay too small. On this point, the “style over functionality” thing has just gotten in the way. Yeah, okay, I have big hands, but come on. Just as the original iMac's "hockey puck" mouse was a poor excuse for a pointing device, the Mighty Mouse's nubbin is a sad excuse for a scrollwheel. I do like the vaguely mechanical sound it makes when you roll it, however.

The side buttons, which trigger Exposé in Tiger by default, are difficult to click. You have to actually push both of them simultaneously—an odd configuration—and they don't provide any tactile feedback at all. I had hoped that I could map those buttons, separately, to Back and Forward for Safari, respectively, but that won't work because the side buttons are really just one big button. And I don't use or care for Exposé.

However I will say this: I've found more reasons to use the sideways (left to right) scrolling functionality of the Mac’s scroll nubbin than I have with the IntelliMouse Explorer 4.0 I usually use on the PC (which has offered sideways scrolling for years). The reason? Two of the applications I use most often on the Mac—iMovie HD and Final Cut Express HD—both require horizontal scrolling fairly often because their movie tracks often run great lengths horizontally. On the PC, I tend to just scroll vertically in applications such as Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Outlook, and Microsoft Word, and in those cases, the IntelliMouse scrollwheel gets a nice workout. But I hardly use Microsoft Excel at all—or any other application on the PC that requires horizontal scrolling, for that matter.

Scrolling horizontally in these movie-editing applications seems natural to me. Indeed, I wonder how I ever lived without the functionality.

What About PC Users?
Will the Mighty Mouse work on the PC? In fact, it does. And it even works more closely to the way I'd like it to work than it does in Mac OS X with the Mighty Mouse software installed, which is disconcerting. When you plug in the mouse, Windows XP recognizes it as a "USB Human Interface Device," then announces that the new hardware is ready to use. Without loading any additional drivers, the primary and secondary buttons work properly—that is, the right button actually triggers pop-up menus—as does the scrollwheel. Most interestingly, Button 4 (which is really the combination of the two side buttons, which still must be squeezed simultaneously) actually triggers the Back command in Web browsers, which is excellent.

The mouse is still too small for me to use regularly on the PC, but this is good news because I might be able to travel with it. The default behavior of the mouse on the PC made me wonder whether the right-click stuff might have worked had I just plugged it into OS X without first loading the drivers. In other words, does Apple's Mighty Mouse-specific driver installation actually disable right-clicking by default? Yes, it turns out that it does: If you don't install the Mighty Mouse software first, the device will act like a normal multi-button mouse on the Mac, as well. However, the side buttons won’t work at all.

Not Bad
At $49, the Mighty Mouse is too expensive—$30 seems about right—but that won't deter Apple fans from snapping it up, of course. With Apple, you just gotta have the latest and greatest. I would like to see Apple start bundling this mouse with its computers and get rid of that ancient one-button thing the company’s been foisting on users for several years. If I was going to rate the Mighty Mouse, I'd give it 3 stars out of 5. Not horrible, and not great, but pretty good overall.

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