Did you know about trackballs? They can make an excellent ergonomic mouse alternative.
In a previous post, I wrote about the evils of mice and how they are all out to get you! In the upcoming posts, I will go through some ergonomic mouse alternatives I have used (including trackballs) and discuss some of their merits, as well as their potential downsides.
As before, please don’t take what I say as hard and fast rules! I can’t emphasise enough that we are all individuals and therefore we all have individual aches and pains. That said, I offer these suggestions here in the hope that they may help somebody, somewhere – perhaps even you.
I started off trying to include all the different ergonomic mouse types in one post, but it ended up being waaaayyyy too long!
This is therefore now a “mini series” within my main RSI series.
Over the next few posts I’ll cover:
So the first ergonomic mouse is the trackball mouse.
These mouse alternatives hark back to the golden age of computing when you could make “computers that fit inside a single room” (to quote the film Apollo 13). Of course, the earliest computers had things like punch cards and later went on to have keyboards before the idea of having a “pointer” for a graphical display came along.
Before the modern day mouse was invented, some computers had a ball built into the desk or even on ‘portable computers’, as they were then known. You moved the ball in order to move the pointer, kind of like an upside down mouse. Well, in fact all the mouse did was to turn the trackball upside down. You can find a full definition of a trackball over on Wikipedia.
Today, technology has moved on in both mice and trackballs.
The physical ball that used to be in mice has been changed to an optical device (or laser). The wires we were used to plugging into the back of our PCs have largely gone, and trackballs have become trackpads in certain places, such as laptops.
However, trackballs are still used in certain specialised areas or niche industries. For example, many Computer Aided Design (CAD) applications and graphic artists may utilise a trackball. And they can be good for RSI too. Kensington do a great line of ergonomic trackballs, and Logitech produces the iconic Trackman Marble (formerly known as the Marble Mouse).
This is because trackballs are generally more sensitive to small movements than a mouse will be. Hence trackballs are better suited to graphical applications where fine detail is important. Read that again and note the italics.
Since a trackball is more sensitive to movement, a smaller movement of the ball will create a large movement of the pointer on screen.
In addition to this, the trackball base stays still so only your fingers are required to move the ball. This has a useful side effect for those who suffer from arm, shoulder, or neck pain due to mouse movement, as your whole arm is no longer required!
Another advantage of using a trackball over a mouse is that double clicking becomes easier.
A common issue mouse users have is that the mouse moves when they attempt to double click. With a trackball this is very unlikely to happen because the base doesn’t move and you can even take your fingers away from the ball while you click.
Typically, it takes a little while to get used to the smaller movements, but this is soon mastered (most people take a day or two, in my experience).
Different trackball models are available.
There are ones where the ball is operated by the thumb or the fingers. I haven’t used a thumb operated trackball myself, but I’ve heard mixed opinions about them. For one, they have the ball on one side of the device so they will be specific to whichever hand you use.
Secondly, since you are using only the one digit to operate them some people find that the thumb then gets over strained instead.
One device I have used extensively and can recommend is the Logitech Marble Mouse (pictured left).
This has a large ball positioned in the middle, so you can use one or more fingers for movement. You can also use it with either hand. The thumb and second/third/fourth fingers are used to click the buttons, which can be a bit weird at first, but at least you have the option!
The only downside to this, is that there is no scroll wheel so if you rely on these heavily, you might want to give it a miss.
I achieved great results from this at first, and for some, it will do the job admirably.
I spent a lot of time swapping between hands and this kept me going for a long time.
However, after a while I still found problems particularly at times when I felt stressed and/or under pressure.
Next time, we’ll look at my next attempt to ease the grind: GraphicsTablets.This is part 5 of a series of articles on Ergonomics and computers.
Follow the links below to the rest of the series:
I'm Tim Bader, founder of ErgonomicToolbox.com and the Ergonomic Toolbox training course. I am a writer, author, blogger and church leader, and I help people to overcome RSI and live comfortably with technology. When I'm not writing, helping or training people, I live at home with my wife, two teenage kids and Playstation.
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