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The Mighty Mouse-or Mr. Trouble Always Hangs Around

There comes a time in every man’s life when he is confronted with a tool that does not work. For some men, this happens in the college years. For others, it happens later in life and can be addressed with medication. I am sure it is obvious already that the tool that confounds us all on campus is the Apple “Mighty Mouse.”

To the untrained eye, the Mighty Mouse is an oblong piece of white plastic with a cord. Indeed, the Mighty Mouse is a mightily-designed oblong piece of white plastic with a cord, whose elegant and minimalist construction brings a tear to the eye of industrial designers and museum curators. And so it shall be that when the Mighty Mouse is placed in the museums of design in the future and my great-grandchildren gaze upon it with wide-eyed wonder, they will think, “beauty has a shape and it is oblong with a cord.”

H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction often deals with things so terrible that they can only be addressed indirectly, and I follow this approach in considering the construction of the Mighty Mouse. For those who do not know, the Mighty Mouse does not have a traditional scroll wheel, but rather a little gray ball. From the Amazon product description:

Time is round. Space is curved. Why should your mouse be linear? Plenty of applications require you to do more than scroll up and down. Mighty Mouse offers 360-degree scrolling capability, thanks to its Scroll Ball, perfectly positioned to roll smoothly under just one finger. Explore the farthest reaches of your files—pan images in iPhoto, view timelines in iMovie HD and Final Cut Pro, traverse bars in GarageBand and Logic Pro—with one hand tied behind your back (or holding a cup of coffee or typing). Mighty Mouse gives you room to roam.

This account suggests that the Mighty Mouse actually offers some new ways of scrolling. I have yet to actually use an application in which this works, other than the few programs suggested. I tried my best to seek out this capability, only to discover that the mouse was broken.

There is no need for the mouse to even have a “scroll ball.” It may come as a shock to Apple’s designers, but the ordinary, non-oblong-scroll-ball mice are already set up for navigating over a flat surface. In fact, this is what allows the non-Mighty Mouse user to navigate his or her user interface. Many mice already work in this way, and they work well, at least since the introduction of the optical mouse.

For the sake of sanity and instance, I am writing this using a Lenovo MOEUUO optical mouse, which forsakes the oblong, scroll ball mice and implements a scroll wheel that is also a button. You depress the scroll wheel and can then scroll in 360 degrees. Most interestingly, when holding down the scroll-wheel button, the further you move the mouse from its starting location, the faster the mouse pointer moves. I believe in my heart-of-hearts that this type of scrolling offers far more control than the Mighty Mouse.

Indeed, in my attempts to use the Mighty Mouse, I have inferred that the design process at Apple is focused on the visual design aesthetic in which a product must excel at “looking like it will work.” This seems the likeliest explanation for reinventing scrolling in every direction and then claiming it to be new. Supporting this assessment is another “novelty” supported by the Mighty Mouse. In the words of the product description: “In the beginning, there was one button. Then there were two.” There should really be a twenty-year pause between those two sentences as that was the amount of time it took Apple to figure out that people usually have enough fingers to use two buttons. Does anyone remember those other Apple-designed reinventions of the mouse such as the cramp-inducing hockey puck? Or the mouse that was only button?

Unfortunately there is an even bigger problem with the Mighty Mouse: fragility. Every Mighty Mouse I have used at Haverford is broken. You can scroll left or right, but not in the important up and down directions. I have yet to use a non-Mighty Mouse with a broken scroll wheel.

In many ways, this article is 10 years too late and overly long. The Mighty Mouse was introduced in 2005 and was discontinued in favor of the Magic Mouse. The obvious reason that Haverford has not switched its Macs over to the Magic Mouse (even when it buys new computers) is that there is no corded version of the Magic Mouse. This means that there is no easy way to ensure its availability in the public computer labs. Fortunately, the Mighty Mouse with its trusty cord is still available, but is it the best choice today given that just about any mouse will work with current generations of the Macintosh?

It is my hope that, when my great-grandchildren visit that museum in space and see the Mighty Mouse displayed on a pedestal in all its oblong glory, it will be clearly labeled as a branch of the tree of design that was quickly pruned.