What Should The Middle Mouse Button Mean?

Despite Apple's historical insistence that the computer mouse should only have one button-- which led to the highly unfortunate convention of double-clicking-- most mice have more than one button today. In his classic book The Humane Interface, Jef Raskin revisits the earliest days of his involvement with the Mac project and realizes that the single button mouse was a mistake. Mice were meant to have multiple buttons.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2008/03/what-should-the-middle-mouse-button-mean.html

Another thing to remember about the middle-mouse-paste is that highlight on Linux systems is also an implicit copy. That is something that would need to be addressed in Windows.

Specifically for cut/copy/paste: highlight what you want to copy/cut, middle click to store highlighted text in memory, right click to copy or middle click (again) to paste… no context menu needed.

Microsoft should just make such user interface features more configurable.There’s no need to worry about predefining a set of actions for a certain button as long as the user has the option of changing it - KDE takes this route and I’m very happy with it. I can set my middle mouse button to do what I want it to do, and ignore the default settings. Those people who are power users and want to get the full functionality out of each mouse button will be technologically acclimated enough to change such settings, and those who aren’t acclimated won’t even think about changing such a setting. Indeed, many people I know that use Windows rarely use the right mouse button - it’s almost as if they only have one mouse button anyway. The power users are the one getting the real usage out of the extra button, so why not just let them configure it?

well i have two mice, a mighty mouse which was bought for using blender on my mac laptop (single button, does the right click very well though, never worked the middle button bit out, hence a mouse) works ok but it gets used for specific jobs. the trackball is nice.

second is an intellimouse, five button. work very well and i like it, doesn’t get used much now cus its a wired one and i hate the tangle on the laptop. however…

the middle button (scroll wheel) is basically pointless since its too easy to trigger it when scrolling. the two side buttons are likewise pointless, why? well i also use cmputers at work, with more basic rodents. so assigning commands to a button i don’t always have seems pointless.

plus what can they actually do? application specific stuff is nice (next/previous tab is good)

The How-To Geek (I’m not affiliated with them) posted a good article on how to disable this functionality in Firefox - http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/internet/firefox/disable-that-irritating-autoscroll-feature-in-firefox/.

I’ll go one further - type about:config in Firefox’s address bar, double-click the middlemouse.paste entry and the middle mouse button will paste in Firefox, like it does in the UNIX world.

I would prefer it if the middle mouse button could be used for fast scrolling.

I also wish my laptop had a scroll button.

How do you turn off autoscroll in Windows XP?

Nowadays it’s most useful for opening and closing tabs in browsers. :wink:

So let’s just add tabs to all other applications :slight_smile:

When working in Windows, the thing I miss the most is to paste text using the middle button!

“I prefer to scroll explicitly with the wheel, and I often trigger this unwanted “mode” when I’ve slightly missed middle-clicking on a link”

For me it was always the other way round. I like the scroll-wheel-button for scrolling because it feels more fluent that than rotating the wheel. At first I hated the “Open in new Tab” that Firefox introduced. Nowadays I got used to it but still hate that it depends so much on where exactly I click.

Oh and the “Paste” behaviour of Gnome is pretty annoying :wink:

I am not sure a mouse with many buttons would help so much. I think the future is touch sensitive surfaces anyway; but how would you map all those buttons to your finger actions :slight_smile: Maybe that’s why Apple never wanted additional mouse buttons: To make the transition to touch interfaces easier :wink:

I wrote an article on similar lines a while ago.
a href="http://www.diovo.com/?p=40"Where is the new mouse?/a

After my e-mail on the subject, and having slept on it, I’m even more convinced that middle-click-to-close is really bad default behaviour, because it’s so destructive: click on a tab to select it, middle-click to make it go away entirely, right-click for options. Of those three, only the middle-click causes something to happen which is outright bad (a pop-up menu is easily dismissed, after all), and browser tabs are the only place that this behaviour exists, increasing the chances of it being accidentally invoked.

Reading through the first few comments…it seems like we all have VERY different tastes. Might be difficult to find any standard mapping that we all like.

The old-fashioned middle mouse buttons had one big advantage; 1) they were big, and 2) required less pressure to click. Ctrl+Click is a nice alternative for this, but I still have to wean myself off the middle-click behavior.

The browsing behavior with tabs has changed; instead of following a clearly definable “trail” with milestones, we branch much more often, parallelizing information.

Clicking the middle mouse button is easy because of Fitts’ Law; it takes less effort to click something that’s right there with a special button than it is to drag a link to the tab bar (with a limited size and a big opportunity to hit an existing tab). Right-click to choose “Open in New Tab” also requires more actions.

The worst part of this is that existing browser-like applications (Windows Help files, Explorer) do not behave like this while they could have an advantage with this. Especially Help (of any kind) is a culprit; it does its best to act useless.

On the Mac, the middle mouse button does invoke a kind of paste (paste primary selection) in one particular place: Terminal.app.

Also, you can triple-click to select an entire line of text.

my 4th and 5th mouse button is not mentioned :wink:

Standardizing the middle mouse button behavior will discontent many users because they have been trained to a certain behavior with their applications. However, this doesn’t mean it is a bad idea though I believe that multi-touch is a better alternative to adding buttons to the mouse.

Keyboard shortcuts are not standardised and we get on just fine. Yes, there are some set standards (Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, Alt+F4, etc.) but then there are also shortcuts that are specific to one application. For example, between The GIMP, OpenOffice and Firefox there are loads of keyboard shortcuts using the same key combinations but with completely different meanings.

Keyboard shortcuts are considered “advanced features” by most users as they are something you have to know and learn. I see no reason why the middle mouse button cannot be the same; if you know what it does, use it.

“If the first and second mouse buttons have standard, well-defined meanings today-- why can’t the third button, too?”

Well, what function would you map to it? Selecting and context menus are used in 99.9% of applications, but what other features are universally implemented? X’s choice of paste was a good one - it is a repetitive task, and is a function used in 99.9% of applications. The autoscroll comes a close second (there are lots of applications that involve some form of scrolling), but controlling tabs makes little sense. In a non-tabbed application, what would it actually do?

“I hope over the next few years Microsoft and Apple can decide on a set of standard middle mouse button behaviors.”

Why just Microsoft and Apple? The open source community deserve a say too :stuck_out_tongue:

Well, I guess tabs are becoming a fundamental part of computer use these days - not just in the web browser but also in help applications and as a replacement for MDI. I think that it’s a perfectly good standard use for the middle mouse button.