Is it hard to switch to a trackball from using a mouse all your computing life?
August 6, 2004 2:44 PM   Subscribe

I hate my mouse. At my new job, the whole desk setup makes it very uncomfortable (tingling along pinky and wrist). I'm debating on trying out a trackball (maybe this one or this one). Is it hard to switch to a trackball from using a mouse all your computing life? Is it worth the effort?
posted by adampsyche to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
It wasn't hard for me to switch, but then I seem to have little problem with input device switcharoos. The downside: for me, at least, a trackball hurts far worse even than a traditional mouse. Perhaps the one I have (MS trackball optical 1.0) is too large for my hands, though.

I'd advise against a thumb-controlled trackball in any case--moving my thumb up and down really aggravates my wrist in a fingernails-on-a-chalkboard way.

For what it's worth, I saw a picture today on teh pile of Mike Oldfield in front of a PC equipped with a standard mouse and an arm brace extending from the edge of his desk, and that seemed like a very appealing solution.

My all-time favorite setup: heavy ergonomic keyboard use with a simple Cirque touchpad velcroed to the keyboard's wrist wrest.
posted by littlegreenlights at 3:03 PM on August 6, 2004

* By "heavy ergonomic keyboard use" I mean using an ergonomic keyboard in addition to learning all the keyboard shortcuts for common commands and applications, then using them instead of the mouse whenever possible. I see now that could be read as a typo for "used with." Anyhow.
posted by littlegreenlights at 3:05 PM on August 6, 2004

I switched to a trackball back when they first came out and never looked back. It's easier for me to do precision work, move the pointer across two monitors, and I use less desk space. Of your two examples, I would recommend the model where you roll the ball with your fingers, and not the thumb-ball one ; your thumb isn't really meant to move around like that.

One thing to be aware of - you hand/arm are going to be much more stationary when you use the trackball. If the tingling you are experiencing now is because your chair is at the wrong height to your desk, it might get worse with the trackball. I have two places where all this resting on hard surfaces has caused callouses - on the bony protrusion on my wrist and on my elbow. If my chair is too low for the day, the weight on my elbow will actually cause my arm to go a bit numb.

So, I'd actually experiment with chair height before switching to a trackball. (And really, I find a tablet to be the most comfortable pointing device, but it's a pain switching between it and the keyboard.)
posted by Sangre Azul at 3:10 PM on August 6, 2004

I made the switch to a Trackman Marble FX (index/middle finger control) after about 10 years of mousing. I first tried out a Trackman Marble Wheel but the thumb control cramped my thumb and seemed not as precise as the larger ball of the FX. The FX (which looks very similar to the MS Trackball Explorer you linked) took very little time to adjust to. The ergonomic benefits seem kind of marginal to me, but I still don't regret the switch, other than pining for a mouse wheel.

Sometimes when using a mouse I smack the table with my thumb when trying to click, because that's where left click is on the FX.

Recently I've had my eyes on the IBM Keyboard with UltraNav which combines a trackpoint and touchpad in a desktop keyboard. What doesn't bug me is moving the mouse/ball, it's the constant movement of my right hand between the keyboard and mouse, especially while coding. I like both trackpoints and touchpads, so I may give it a shot.
posted by zsazsa at 3:10 PM on August 6, 2004

zsazsa, if you're still pining for a mouse wheel, try the Cordless Optical Trackman
posted by Sangre Azul at 3:15 PM on August 6, 2004

Aha, Sangre Azul, I forgot to mention my flirtation with that trackball! It's a fine trackball, except the ball is "rotated." When I push what I expect to be up, the ball goes off at a thirty degree angle. The windows drivers offer an alignment feature to correct this, but for XWindows in Unix, the rotation correction is really choppy and I couldn't stand it. It was a dream in Windows, though. I ended up selling it on eBay. :(
posted by zsazsa at 3:20 PM on August 6, 2004

I have never met a Logitech trackball I liked. Logitech has truly awful ergonomics for some hand shapes, I guess.

In any case, I've been using the Kensington Expert at work for the last 5 or 6 years and it kicks major ass. The (removable) ball is big -- billiard sized -- satisfyingly heavy, and has great spin inertia. It's as though an arcade trackball had been designed for everyday use.

For about three years I was using the Kensington Orbit at home, and used to be quite the Quake2 sniper with it. However, I wanted to move to something fully optical so I no longer use a trackball at home, but I would gladly go back to the Orbit if my optical mouse croaked.
posted by majick at 3:26 PM on August 6, 2004

I've been using a Kensington Turbo Mouse Pro (which is indeed a trackball, similar to the Expert) for several years and liking it. Previous to that I used the Orbit, but found that it got gunked up very quickly.
posted by sad_otter at 3:38 PM on August 6, 2004

I've never been able to switch to a trackball or other pointing device, but if you're beginning to suffer repetitive stress, you should try. Even if it's not more ergonomic overall, and even if you have trouble switching, it's a good idea to mix up the different types of movements you're putting your wrist through.

I also find that the optical mice are easier on the wrist. They just track better and smoother, and it cuts way down on the amount of course-correction and compensation you have to do to accomodate an old, bumpy, or dirty mouse. A smooth mouse pad will also increase your mouse performance, whichever type of mouse you use.

Please do something, though, as the symptoms you describe are probably much more serious indicators than you think. You can go from tingling to flare up to nerve damage and wrangling with the government over your disability payments in a matter of weeks. I've seen it.
posted by scarabic at 3:57 PM on August 6, 2004

I second the Trackman Marble FX. I stopped using mice when I was feeling the very beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome, and have since bought one of these for both work and home.
posted by kickerofelves at 4:14 PM on August 6, 2004

I am using the trackball explorer. I love it and it took me one good night to get used to it. It is only on my home machine and I am using traditional mice and touchpads all day. I find I can use it for hours and still not have any soreness. Plus most people don't want to use your computer when you have a trackball.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 4:50 PM on August 6, 2004

just an off-the wall idea, but can you get "normal" keyboards with the nipple doodah that ibm thinkpads have? i use a thinkpad maybe 30% of the time and love that thing (in windows - the linux driver is crap, needs a patch, kernel recompile etc etc).
posted by andrew cooke at 4:52 PM on August 6, 2004

At home I use the Kensington Expert trackball on the left side of the keyboard and the regular Apple Pro mouse on the right side of the keyboard. For some tasks I specifically use one or the other, but for some general tasks I just use whichever hand is less tired (or perhaps whichever free hand is closer to a device).
posted by gluechunk at 8:17 PM on August 6, 2004

andrew, search for "trackpoint" keyboards, at least that's what IBM calls them. (not sure if they patented the idea though)
posted by ALongDecember at 8:52 PM on August 6, 2004

I switched to the Logitech Marble Mouse a couple of years ago and haven't looked back. I like the central location of the ball with the buttons on either side.
posted by bucko at 10:49 PM on August 6, 2004

Ditto recommendations for Kensington (I've got the Expert Mouse.) I recommend putting it to the left of the keyboard: the numeric keypad makes for a more awkward reach to the right.

Note that there's one thing mice are really good at that some replacements can suck at -- dragging. Fortunately, the Kensington windows drivers let you use one of the four buttons as a drag button -- hit it once, and it's like you're holding down the left-button until you hit the left-button.

Unfortunately, I haven't found a way to make it work with X on my Linux box.

Ditto scarabic. The tingling is your body's little way of telling you you need to change something.

Note that equipment alone won't save you if you work long hours without breaks under stress.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 12:30 AM on August 7, 2004

contrary to what everyone has said, I use a thumb controlled trackball and would rather go back to using a mouse than use the finger-controlled ones.

they're probably right insofar as "good for you" and "better for precision" goes, but personal preference can be an odd thing.
posted by juv3nal at 3:51 AM on August 7, 2004

also, the thumb ones are better for dragging.
posted by juv3nal at 3:52 AM on August 7, 2004

I tried the microsoft one you mentioned and it hurt my wrist a lot, I was used to trackballs already also. I wanted an optical one though. Eventually I went back to the Kensington Turboball, Kensington has very good ergonomics.

I don't think it was too hard to switch from mouse to trackball, I use a mouse at work and a trackball at home all the time. My mother however seems completely baffled by the concept of a trackball with 4 buttons, so your results may vary.
posted by rhyax at 12:03 PM on August 7, 2004

Oh and Kensington's software kicks ass, much better than MS's, you can set chording actions, and define the cursor acceleration curve, as well as all the other things you would expect.
posted by rhyax at 12:24 PM on August 7, 2004

If it's the setup that's screwing you up, you don't need a trackball, you need a better setup. IMO (IANAD but IAapersonwithrsi) most ergonomic problems can be solved by changing the height of your keyboard and mouse. Usually by moving them lower.
posted by callmejay at 7:49 PM on August 7, 2004

Oh, mother of God, no. The repetitive movements are so tiny and concentrated with trackballs that they'll fuck you up worse and faster.
posted by joeclark at 3:33 PM on August 8, 2004

joe: That is exactly why I suggest the Expert, and probably why I hate the Logitechs with such a passion. The Expert's ball is the size of a cueball, and it encourages plenty of large, fluid motion. In the course of a day, I probably spin that sucker Centipede-style seventy or eighty times.
posted by majick at 7:39 PM on August 8, 2004

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