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Mouse Alternatives

A while ago, I did way too much mousing (setting up vision jobs with Cognex Insight) and ended up with significant shoulder strain.  I’ve been better since (but not back to normal), partly by watching how much mousing around I do.

Recently, I decided it was time for another approach, and bought a Kensington Orbit Trackball with Scroll Ring.  Overall, it’s working pretty well; I’ve been using it for less than a  week, and my arm and shoulder definitely feel better.  The scroll ring works pretty well (I’d say better than a typical mouse wheel).  The ball is pretty big (about 1.5″), and is very smooth.

I also went to a smaller keyboard; I think part of the problem may have been extending my arm too far to get to the mouse.  When I use the narrower keyboard, I don’t have to extend as far.  I was able to scrounge up an old PS/2 mini-keyboard with trackpad.  The keyboard is OK, with a usable layout, but the trackpad is pretty bad (it doesn’t feel good, and it takes a lot of motion to get across my monitor).  Also, I’ve been adjusting my chair height to find the best position.

I’ve used mini keyboards with trackballs in the past, and haven’t been happy with them, because they had mechanical mini-trackballs that took a lot of motion to get anywhere, picked up lint like crazy, and basically were a pain to use.  In the future, I might try a mini keyboard with trackpad if I can test it first (some trackpads are decent), the old Lenovo Thinkpad keyboard (with pointer stick and trackpad) or the new Lenovo Thinkpad keyboard (with pointer stick only, but more affordable price).

I looked at some Logitech trackballs; I went with the Kensington because the ball seemed substantially larger, I liked the the scroll ring, and I’ve tried some Logitech trackballs in the past and wasn’t impressed (I do like their mice).  I wouldn’t mind having a larger ball and more buttons, but I’m not willing to pay for a Kensington Ultimate (~$90) or CH Products with 2.25″ ball (~$230; I’ve used CH Products joysticks in the past — they are really nice).


1 Dave { 08.23.10 at 6:04 pm }

Hi Tony, this isn’t a mouse alternative suggestion, but is related. I’ve also had issues with keyboard / mice combinations, and another source of strain for me is the distance of the mouse from the keyboard. Those 10key pads get in the way and drive me crazy! While the MS Sidewinder keyboard is cool because it’s got a detachable 10key pad, it’s not very ergonomic. Here’s a post from my maker blog that details what I did to improve my situation a little — it might be a good addition to your scroll ball.

2 Tony { 08.23.10 at 9:36 pm }

Thanks for the link. Although I enjoy doing some mechanical stuff (last week, I had fun cleaning out the ball screw and linear bearings on a stage), that’s more work than I’m going to do.

I don’t currently have any problems with keyboard RSI, and haven’t cared for the MS-style ergonomic keyboards. I really do prefer a keyboard with good touch (no chiclets!), and find that most modern keyboards don’t have a good feel. So far, I’m doing OK with the mini-keyboard; it’s feel is OK but not great. I do fine with the main layout (alphabet, etc), but am still learning how to quickly use the peripheral stuff (arrow keys, Home, etc). I’m also trying to use the trackpad a bit for short moves (so I don’t have to take my fingers off the keyboard — but I’m so used to doing that it’s hard not to reach for the trackball, and that trackpad really does suck for major moves).

Eventually, if I stick with the narrow keyboard, I’ll probably add a wired USB keypad (still useful for entering lots of numbers, but not worth spending a lot on for me), and move to the Lenovo Thinkpad keyboard (since it’s the same layout as my Thinkpad X61’s layout, price is within reason, and I really do like the X61 keyboard feel, layout, and size).

I’m still pretty happy with the Orbit, but may add an Ultimate if I can get a great deal on eBay. But first, I’ll probably add a MSI Starpad multi-touch pad, which can do fun, but useless to me, stuff like recognizing Chinese characters. I’m curious to see how I’ll like a multi-touch pad, and the MSI price is reasonable.

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