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A Tech Tip You Can Use: Ditch That Mouse for a Track Ball

A Tech Tip You Can Use: Ditch That Mouse for a Track Ball
(Andrew Buckin/

By    |   Thursday, 01 June 2017 11:16 AM EDT

Every once in a while I like to descend from the lofty heights of technical philosophizing and give readers something they can actually use (painful as that kind of simpering pedestrianism is for me). So here’s something that will change your computing life:

Get rid of your clumsy mouse and get a track ball instead.

Not familiar with a track ball? It’s like a mouse, except that it never moves. Instead, you roll a ball with your thumb and that’s what moves the cursor on your screen.

The other parts are conventional: two buttons (left and right click) and a scroll wheel. I’ve been using track balls since the dawn of the personal computing age and could never understand why anybody would want to use a mouse when these great devices are available. There are several significant advantages:

  1. They use less real estate. When you use a mouse, you have to make sure you’ve cleared enough room on your desk to move it around. The next time you use your mouse, try to notice how many times you pick it up and reposition it because you ran out of room. The only room a track ball needs is a space the size of its outline. It stays put. This is particularly advantageous if you spend a lot of time on airplanes. Nobody uses a mouse at 35,000 feet because there’s no room, so you end up using your laptop’s built-in touch pad, the most awkward and irritating input device since the spork. (Look it up). The track ball is your instant solution.
  2. It’s more accurate. Any time you do some kind of fine movement with your mouse, like positioning it on a character or dragging a graphic object, you find yourself being extremely careful to then click a button without jarring the mouse. Half the time, you move the cursor when you click and have to readjust. Not so the track ball: Roll the ball until you get it exactly where you want it, then simply lift your finger and the cursor stays where you put it.
  3. It works on any surface. Most mice are optical and depend on a non-uniform surface to work correctly. Set it down on a solid colored surface like a black blotter or a white kitchen table and it gets pretty squirrelly. No such problems with the track ball.

What are the downsides? None that I’ve ever found, other than that they cost a bit more than mice, the latter being so ubiquitous that they’ve been commoditized down into protfitlessness for their makers. You can get away with a cheap mouse, but don’t scrimp on the track ball. The ball itself has to turn smoothly in its sockets with no loose jiggling. My personal favorite, the wireless Logitech M570, will run you about $28 on (Prime). A wired version called the “Marble” is about five bucks less.

One tip if you use it on an airplane: Don’t drop it. The two times I did that the ball popped out and rolled nearly the full length of an Airbus A321S, all the way from Row 8 (the first time; Row 3 the second) to the aft lav. The ball looking precisely like a fuseless cherry bomb, I was greeted with several less-than-amused stares as I traipsed my way back in search of the errant orb.

Try one for yourself. I promise: Once you’ve had track, you’ll never go back.

Lee Gruenfeld is a managing partner of Cholawsky and Gruenfeld Advisory, as well as a principal with the TechPar Group in New York, a boutique consulting firm consisting exclusively of former C-level executives and "Big Four" partners. He was vice president of strategic initiatives for, senior vice president and general manager of a SaaS division he created for a technology company in Las Vegas, national head of professional services for computing pioneer Tymshare, and a partner in the management consulting practice of Deloitte in New York and Los Angeles. Lee is also the award-winning author of fourteen critically-acclaimed, best-selling works of fiction and non-fiction. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Get rid of your clumsy mouse and get a track ball instead.
computer mouse, track ball, technology
Thursday, 01 June 2017 11:16 AM
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