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Saturday January 29, 2005 2:20 am

Why Apple Makes a One Buttoned Mouse


Posted by Andru Edwards - Categories: Features, PC / Laptop


DescriptionThere are a lot of misconceptions about the Macintosh, but one misconception that has persisted is the myth that Macs are incapable of using multi-button mice. And those who know this myth is false still complain about Apple not shipping computers with two button mice. Gear Live cub reporter XIcarus wanted to share a bit of background on what many believe to be Apple’s stubborness to conform.

Apple supports multi-button mice. Right out of the box. Furthermore, this is not a ‘new feature’ of OS X. Support for contextual menus (the primary use for the two button mouse) have been around since OS 8.6, which is now more than seven years old. Let me repeat, Apple supports multi-button mice. Even if you use a one button mouse, you can still access contextual menu through ‘control-clicking’ (Hold down the control key when you click the mouse button).



Now on to the second part.

Although I can envision a day where Apple will ship with a two button mouse, they have really, really, really good reasons for sticking to a one button mouse.

The first reason deals with the technical ability of the average computer user. Having once worked doing technical support, let me explain one very common point of frustration for techs. Here is an example:

Me: Right click on “My Computer”
Caller: Right?
Me: The right mouse button
Caller: Oh, okay…Now there’s a menu.
Me: Select “Manage”
Caller: okay
Me: Double click on ‘Device Manager’
Caller: Left or right click?

I kid you not, ten times a day I would talk to someone who has never right clicked in their life. After they first do it, they will ASK YOU EVERY TIME if they should right click or left click. Now, though we may not be the typical computer user, Apple is always concerned with creating a user experience that is as intuitive as possible. Giving the average person a right mouse button is like giving a bald man a comb.

Secondly, Apple wants all developers to follow their interface guidelines. The reason for this is tied into what I wrote above. If every application can be expected to work the same way, the learning curve for the user is minimized. Apple has gone through great pains and great expense to study human-computer interaction. Because of these studies, one thing Apple insists on is that every feature of an application should be accessible through menu items. It’s great and even encouraged to create additional ways of accessing features, but at a bare minimum, you should be able to reach it from the menu.

To this end, many developers get lazy, and implement something that can only be accomplished through a right mouse click. By shipping their computers with a single mouse button, developers are forced to recognize that cutting corners this way isn’t acceptable. Though developers are free to build things through right mouse clicks, they can’t rely on the capability, and are forced to include another means of accessing it.

The third reason is a bit market driven. Those of us who like multi-button mice really like multi-button mice. To this end, if I were to buy a Dell, or HP, or any other mass market computer, I will get a mouse with two buttons and maybe a scroll wheel. What’s the first thing I do? Throw that mouse out for a four-button, five-button or N-button mouse, because it’s inherently better than the mouse I got.

But I also know that I am in the minority. Most computer users are perfectly happy with the mouse they get. And most of them never touch the right mouse button. So, if I and a small percentage of users will throw away our stock mouse for a customized one, why should Apple even bother to ship one with two buttons? It won’t be good enough for me or you and it only confuses the majority of the computer using market, why bother?

Folks, those are the reasons Apple ships a one-button mouse. Will that change? At some point yeah. But Apple is in no hurry to ship something that they believe no one will use.

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