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My boss walked into my office today, saying, “I have a surprise for you!” “Are you being facetious?” I asked. “Maybe.”

He handed me this:

I think my reaction surprised him. “Oh, wow! This was my favorite mouse ever!” “Really?” I was not being facetious.

This, friends, is the Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II. According to Mactracker—an awesome, comprehensive app that gives info on every Apple product ever made—this mouse was included on all Macs from 1993 to 1998. It was only the third mouse design since the Mac’s introduction in 1984. My boss found this one locked in a cabinet in some conference room. It cleaned up really nice, and I plan to keep it.

I began using Macs when they showed up in my junior high school, though it took a long time for me to have one of my very own. Macs were too expensive, so my folks bought a IIe while I was in high school. (I first used a IIe and learned Apple Basic when I was in 4th grade.) I used my Apple IIe to write all my papers in college, but I loved every moment using the Macs at school to create flyers or newsletters or graphics.

I got my very own Mac, an LC III, in 1993. It had the new Apple Mouse II. When I started doing scientific illustration and page layout for books at Birkhäuser, the LC III was quickly replaced with a faster mac, a Quadra 610, that could better handle Illustrator and Aldus PageMaker. (Here’s one of the books I typeset. For some reason, I thought I had put my name on the copyright page. I usually did. Anyway, I want to go on record saying that nowadays, I would never stretch a font like I did in those black boxes!)

I did not upgrade my Mac until 1999, when I got a blue and white G3. I had already been living in L.A. and working for Disney for five years. I got the G3 literally weeks before the brand new G4 towers came out. It was my first introduction to immediate obsolescence.

I got my G3 less than a year after Apple had introduced the bondi blue iMac, the machine that began the rebirth of Apple and the Mac. Perhaps the most maligned thing about the new iMac was the mouse: it was round, which meant you could never tell, by feel alone, if you were holding it upright or not. My G3 came with one of these horrible mice, but I did not mind, because the machine still had an ADB port, which meant I could use my old Apple Mouse II. (I think this was the last Mac to have an ADB port. It was the first pro-level Mac to have USB.)

When I got my 12″ PowerBook in 2003, I could no longer use my Apple Mouse II. I still have not found a mouse I love as much.

The Apple Mouse II was perfect. That seems like a silly thing to say, because it had only one button, used a physical roller ball, and had no scroll wheel or scroll ball. But I consider it perfect anyway.

The mouse was low profile, which meant it sat in the curve of my hand without me having to bend my wrist backward to accommodate its bulk. The button end of the mouse was very shallow, down close to the desk surface, so I never had to strain my fingers up to rest on the button. My hand could relax comfortably. Most mice, especially today, have unnecessary bulk. They force the hand to arch up to unnatural heights, and the buttons are far off the desk, which pushes the fingers higher than is normal. The Apple Mouse II was shaped so that you could plonk your hand down, relaxed, on the desk, and the mouse would just happen to be there, in the cavity, ready to go.

The button had perfect tactility, which meant you could rest your finger(s) on the button comfortably without the button accidentally clicking. It also clicked at just the right pressure, so I never had to strain my fingers to press down. If a button clicks too easily, finger muscles get strained as you hold them aloft, trying not to click. When a button mechanism is too strong, the muscles have to strain harder to click.

The single button that covered the entire front of the mouse meant I could relax my hand in a natural position, even to the very right edge of the mouse, and still move and click with ease. A two-button mouse where the left button is the default button forces your wrist to rotate farther left and your index finger to angle more than is natural, then hold the pose the entire time you use the mouse. Most mice are designed with the buttons inset from the sides of the mouse, so even if you can rest your hand at the very edge, you have to move your finger to click. On the Apple II Mouse, you could just click any part of the front, and you were okay.

All these tiny little alterations, muscle movements, and position-holdings add up over the hours, and, in my experience, at the end of a long mousing day, they hurt. My right hand is sore every day using “better” mice. For sure, hands of different sizes and shapes may require different shapes of mice. A large hand still rests its fingers at the surface of a desk, so the low mouse button works well there. Perhaps stronger fingers would need stronger button clicking, and a wider hand a wider mouse to more comfortably grip, but overall, I posit that the Apple Mouse II was a perfect, average shape.

My current favorite mouse is the Wireless Mighty Mouse. Yes, also by Apple. I have used a number of other brands of mice, and none of them works as well (though the Logitech MX 300, now impossible to find, was pretty decent). With the Mighty Mouse, I get back the low profile and the low, borderless button. I swap my left and right clicking, so the right side of the mouse is my “left” click. This way, I only have to strain my hand or fingers occasionally to execute a “right” click. My hand can rest as it did using an Apple Mouse II. (I tried swapping button mapping on other mice, but for some reason, it didn’t work so well, mostly because the unclickable side border made it pointless.)

The down side of the Mighty Mouse is that I have to be very careful, and therefore strain my hand, to do a “click and pick up the mouse to move it before you unclick” maneuver. This is easy on most mice, but because the whole top of the Mighty Mouse is mostly one piece, the only place to grab and hold is the side-click buttons. I have to move my thumb up to the left side click button (because it does not naturally rest there), then sort of do a squeeze–hold while I click the main button, then do a cumbersome lift… Do you know how many times I accidentally squeeze too hard and bring up Exposé? And then suddenly I’m stuck, hand aloft, mid-click, with all my windows shrunken, and everything has to come to a halt while I repair the mess.

Another issue is the touch-sensitive button. I love the idea in theory, but you have to lift your fingers off the “left” click “button” to make the “right” click “button” work properly. If the mouse senses a touch on both sides, it does not execute a “right” click. This strain does get to my hand by the end of the day.

I could get into my issues with tracking sensitivity, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that the Apple mice have the best tracking algorithmicity thingy I’ve used. Other mice are too sensitive and don’t get the acceleration right.

One could say that I simply like the Apple Mouse II because that’s what I got used to using. It seems a fair argument, but it doesn’t work here because I can just lay my hand down on my desk, let it relax, and see how it comes to rest. The Apple Mouse II fit right into that relaxed posture. I do not imagine other people’s hands lie in completely different ways than mine, all twisted to the left with fingers naturally hovering in the air and wrists bent backwards. Maybe I’m ignorant, or a fool. Or maybe it’s approaching 8:00 on a Friday night, and I’m here in my office writing a blog post about mice.

I have spent a lot of time at work testing mice, trying to find decent ones that haven’t been bastardized by forced progress and redesigned for redesign’s sake. It’s a constant battle. So seeing an old friend walk in the door was a great surprise and, perhaps pathetically, a happy one.

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