Meet The Inventor of the Mouse Wheel

The mouse wheel is so integral to my mousing experience now that it's difficult to imagine using a GUI without one. Although I clearly remember using mice without scroll wheels, I can't recall exactly when the transition occurred-- when mouse wheels became a standard, expected feature on every mouse as they are today.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

The Kensington Expert Mouse is a trackball with a scroll/zoom wheel, although not the conventional scroll wheel. It’s more of a dial around the trackball.

Sadly, the Expert Mouse is punishing to use in my experience, though my father and uncle swear by them (noticeably, though, my uncle uses both hands on the trackball). The Orbit is the same one I started with in the 90s, though optical now, after leaving them behind because they didn’t have any optical trackballs when I bought my first Trackball Explorer.

having used logitech trackballs for a long time, i can say they are pretty precise when moving the cursor along the screen

The trackballs are precise, but my thumb is not. I’ve tried, because they were among the first optical trackballs, but my thumb can’t move the pointer up and down the screen properly with their design.

unfortunately a thumb-moved trackball is extremely dangerous: the
wrist is suffering and you can easily get the carpal tunnel
syndrome. that’s why i am glad the mouse wheel rendered the
trackball obsolete.

My main reason for using a trackball is because I already have carpal tunnel, and I prefer to use a device that doesn’t inflame it, which means using ergonomic keyboards and trackballs that feel comfortable to use for long periods of time. I don’t really know why there aren’t more trackballs that are comfortable to use with the forefinger, really. A mouse is probably the only thing that inflames my carpal tunnel problems more than a standard (or laptop) keyboard.

The one thing I notice missing faster than a scroll wheel, though, is the 3rd and 4th buttons on my trackball assigned to back/forward in Explorer and the browser. I also get a little irritable over the placement of the Function key on my Gateway laptop. The bottom left corner of the keyboard should be the Control key… Oh, and let’s not get started on the fact that laptops almost universally come with trackpads instead of trackballs now.

I’ve had minimal exposure to Macs, it would figure that they have a better interface for working with media. I imagine they just add another of the same tracking sensor used for the mouse itself, aimed at a ball on a spring loaded button.

Just in case anybody in the “wheel should default to zoom” camp isn’t aware, in many programs the wheel does default to zoom (or text scale) if you hold down Ctrl while scrolling.

I just found out my Dell provided mouse scrolls sideways as well! Well yesterday actually. Using Excel as much as I do I like that feature, if my hand happens to be on the mouse at that moment otherwise ctrl home, or left or right arrow works well enough for most things.

Try the Perfit Mouse (also called Contour Mouse) from Contour Design. I like mine a lot for the ergonomics. It has a thumb activated scroll wheel.

The optical sensor is not the best - it gets confused by more surfaces than your average mouse (including my 1999 Intellimouse Explorer), but the ergonomics are well worth it.

I remember that I cursed the mouse wheel when it first became popular, because I was a Trackball fanatic back then. All those GUIs that made a mouse wheel mandatory, rendered the Trackball obsolete. I still miss the precision of the Trackball at times.

It’s funny, I spent a lot of time working with Macs in the late 80s, early 90s. Now I do .NET development, and rarely touch a Mac. The one I do have to poke from time to time is my mother’s. I’ve grown so accustomed to having multiple buttons and a while, that using her Mac’s (stock) mouse is a real pia.

It seems odd that the idea came from using Excel rather than Word. In a word processor you only really need to scroll up and down, so a wheel makes sense. In Excel you often go left and right too. I like the scroll-ball on Apple’s dreadfully-named Might-Mouse for just that reason.

the hardware guys came back and said that they had considered adding
a wheel to the mouse, but they didn’t know what it would be used for.

This astounds me. I don’t have the kind of mind that could develop something new without already having an application in mind. I wonder what other ideas are floating around for which the creators don’t yet see a use.

The weird thing is that 99% of people have this thing called their left hand. And the hand tends to sit on the keyboard while they’re using the mouse. So you’ve got 4 left fingers (plus thumb for space-bar) that you can use to press keys to select different functions in addition to different mouse buttons.

The keys on the left even have convenient mnemonics, e.g. S for save, E for edit, D for delete, C for copy (X for cut and V for paste are a little weirder, but they’re commonly known). You could add A for add, W for close, T for transform, et cetera. Holding one of these keys plus clicking the mouse button would be like having like 10 mouse commands.

Of course, Newton’s first law of motion (an object in motion tends to stay in motion) also applies to large numbers of people using computer interface systems. So customs are unlikely to change without a massive change pushing them to a different direction.

I wonder why they haven’t put a little trackball on a mouse where the scroll wheel is. I imagine it would be easier to use than the side tilting style scroll wheel and offer the same function.

I remember that I cursed the mouse wheel when it first became
popular, because I was a Trackball fanatic back then. All those GUIs
that made a mouse wheel mandatory, rendered the Trackball obsolete.

There are a number of trackballs with mouse wheels out there, though Microsoft specifically seems to have phased trackballs out of their lineup (I’m using an MS Trackball Explorer at the moment). I’ve been a little irritated that Kensington doesn’t include mouse wheels on their trackballs (either of them), and most of the Logitech trackballs are not quite useful for me (after all, my thumb is useless for moving the pointer on the screen).

The second true innovation were optical mouses, which need no more mechanic - the dust-greedy ball underside.
The forerunner were optical mouses, which needed a special surface - they were fine, too, but too limiting.
Never ever I would buy a mechanical mouse anymore - its a pain to use them, because once they get dirt underneath - and they will get - they become inprecise and the mousepointer is wobbling over the screen.
Beside the wheel, this invention increased productivity of us mouse workers another 1 or 2% - seen worldwide, this is a huge amount of saved working hours - or better output!

“Reader without a website”: They have, it’s called the Apple Mighty Mouse. And it sucks.

That’s worth mentioning – that Apple has been so long in adopting a 2-button mouse. If you didn’t know it by someone telling you, Macs still don’t have a 2-button mouse that ships with the computer by default. The action of the second (invisible) button on the Mighty Mouse is set to “Primary Button” when you get your new Mac. The lack of respect for even a second button on the Mac has always confounded me. In fact, the lack of attention paid to the usability of mouse at all on the Apple machines has always stunned me – it’s been their “signature input device”, if you could call it that, since 1984. I mean, hell, the NeXT cube had 3 buttons…

Mousewheel … A Brilliant idea …
Why not have two … Vertical and Horizontal (Note NOT a trackball) I dont want to go diagonally (confusing) I waht to go up/down or left/right

But why three buttons … I only use 2 (and if I could would only use 1)

The logic seems to be Primary = Yes/OK, Secondary = Change/Edit/Configure, Third=? non-standard…

Some mice have loads…


The NeXT cube was for developers. Developers want a multi-button mouse. However, every developer I know is ultra picky about his mouse and would never dream of using the default mouse that comes with his computer.

Nearly every elderly person or generally computer illiterate person I’ve known, however, gets very confused when you tell them to right click. I’ve seen it in person, for years.

While the average level of understanding has grown throughout the years because of the dominance of windows, possibly to the tipping point where they should include a two-button mouse, I still do see quite a few examples of why they decided to go with one button.

There are some interface options that are good for new users - easily discoverable, easily understood. Others are better for power users - less clicks once you find them, available constantly. Context menus definitely fit the second type. I would even argue that scroll wheels do too, to some extent - they are heavily useful, but do seem to confuse novice users, especially those who click and scroll on them without realizing they did it.

That said - I buy a new mouse immediately for any mac I’ve owned, and I do occasionally miss the second button on my laptop. I only ever miss it that much, though, when I’m swapping platforms often. If you get used to using the interface designed for not needing a second button, you don’t notice the difference as much as when you’ve been using it constantly. And ctrl-click is fine in most situations that aren’t a game.

What about the “Back” and “Forward” buttons on the side of some mice?

I feel crippled when I’m forced to browse the Web without them.

My logitech mouse does horizontal scrolling by tilting the mouse wheel.

What I want though is to get rid of the mouse wheel and put a touch sensitive “button” that when my finger is just resting on it, puts the mouse into pan mode. A flick the wrist scrolls the window vertically and horizontal, quickly. Great for class diagrams…

“They have, it’s called the Apple Mighty Mouse. And it sucks.”

I think it is pretty usable, but I too found it strange that I had to go out of my way to set up the right mouse button action on the Mighty Mouse. The scroll ball is nice and I’ve grown quite fond of the side buttons that activate the Expose feature.

It took a little adjustment, but I think I went into the exercise expecting to adjust from more than a decade of daily PC use. I find myself trying to do the Expose thing at work on my Windows box all the time. :wink:

BTW, I meant to mention in your other recent mouse-related blog, that Logitech has at least one mouse that “scrolls” sideways. The wheel pivots left and right, and this affects horizontal scrolling.