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The BIG Reason

Music, opinions, and portfolio of Mark Eagleton, musician and web developer in Northern CA.

Too Buttoned Mouse

Now that most of my friends are Mac people, we've struggled with finding a good computer argument to replace the Mac vs. PC controversy of yore. The browser war comes into play from time to time, as most of us are involved in web development to some degree. However, I think the lines are most evenly drawn over the two-button (or multi-button) mouse issue.

For those of you out of the Mac loop, Macs have been shipping with one-button mice since 1984. This has been a favorite gripe of Wintel friendlies for as long as I have been using computers. Multi-button Mac people are understandably the most vocal on the subject, as they must fork over an additional $20 to $120 for the fancy pointer of their choice. Recently, Apple announced their very first multi-button foray into the world of pointing devices. As a player for the one-button team, I'm going to go ahead and make my official stand here in this web space.

I'm happy Apple decided to make a multi-button mouse for those of us who want them. It sucks that so many hard core Mac people have to muck up their cool, brand coordinated system with third party crap. I do believe, though, that the hardest of core Mac people are single button mousers, and I find this step a little unsettling in that "selling out the platform" sort of way I mention in my Mactel article.

If you aren't a single-button mouser, you may be wondering, "how in the living crap does having less buttons make you more of a hard core Mac person?" Well my friends, the answer is keyboard shortcuts. In my experience, I have found that rabid, super button mousers are actually aware of far fewer of them than their one-button brethren. When you access your contextual menus via the control key, you tend to cruise with one hand on the keyboard and the other on the mouse. It's sort of like driving a stick (which I also greatly prefer to automatics).

No contextual menu covers a completely usable number of shortcuts, nor have any of those scriptable, one trick wonder buttons on the under belly of the mouse. No, ladies and gentlemen, my Macs are big and they take two fucking hands to drive.

Screen shots of the many spell check and dictionary options native to OS X.Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you that contextual menus are useless. I use them constantly. But I use many of them just as often as I use non-context menu shortcuts.

Let's take spelling for instance. I can control click (or right click) on a misspelled word in any Cocoa native application and get a few spelling suggestions. If the word is spelled correctly, I can look it up in the system wide dictionary from the contextual menu. However, I can't do this if it is spelled wrong. I also can't get spelling suggestions for a partial word that is spelled correctly. Control+command+d gives me real time search of the dictionary as I hover over any word on my screen. Option+esc gives me a list of words to select from my system wide dictionary whether I have spelled a partial word correctly or not. Used in conjunction with contextual menus there is quite a lot of power to be wielded.

And this is just spelling. Safari alone has a very powerful set of keyboard shortcuts—Cut, Copy and Paste included. If my hands are already on the keyboard, I find the added steps of hovering and clicking in a context menu inconvenient compared to invoking equivalent keyboard shortcuts. Lets explore some of them, shall we:

Keyboard Shortcut Equivalents
Back command + [
Reload command + r
View Source option + cmd + u
Save Page As... cmd + s
Print Page cmd + p
Cut cmd + x
Copy cmd + c
Paste cmd + v
Open Link in New Window shift + option + cmd + click
Open Link in New Tab shift + cmd +click
Download Linked File option + click

Then there is the whole concept of modifier keys to the contextual menu, which completely cements my notion that two handed driving is the way hard core Mac people do it. Without modifier keys, you don't get to choose to have a link open in front or behind a current tab or window, or download a file to your default downloads folder or your desktop. Anything less is the computer equivalent to fake manual transmissions, like Audi's Tiptronics®, or Dodge's AutoStick®.

There are probably 20 or so more contextual menu items that are available in Safari that don't have keyboard shortcut equivalents, depending of course on the context in which you click, but there are easily double that in keyboard shortcuts that don't have contextual menu equivalents.

The one redeeming feature that the new Apple mouse has for me is the scroll ball that allows you to scroll up, down, left and right. The modifier keys for scrolling around larger increments of pages (option + arrow) or textareas in Safari require that you reposition a hand.

The multi-button mouse is a great option for one-handed typists, but they simply don't scratch the surface for those of us who make regular use of the advanced menu options that are available via the keyboard. And just for the record, the beauty of the Apple Pro Mouse is that it actually doesn't have any buttons at all. It's superior ergonomic design receives click commands as you depress the entire mouse. My fingers wince at the thought of not clicking in unison with one another.