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Maximizing the Mouse

No, this article is not about squeezing profit from Disney stock. Our Macs all feature those unassuming rodents for clicking, dragging, and generally mousing around. Some Macintosh users, myself included, have moved on from rodentia macintosh to a more advanced species - in my case, a four-button Kensington TurboMouse trackball, which comes with the flexible Kensington MouseWorks software for assigning functionality to the four buttons, controlling acceleration, and so on. Other alternate pointing devices no doubt come with similar software.

But a few recent announcements turned my mind to the many people who are still using the garden variety Macintosh mouse and what options they have for saving the day with a mighty mouse. Keep in mind that I haven't been able to test all of these utilities due to a lack of appropriate hardware, and mixing and matching these utilities may prove dangerous, since they tend to provide similar functions.

I've intentionally concentrated here on a few select programs that relate directly to the mouse hardware itself and actions you perform with the mouse, since any attempt to navigate the full maze of mouse utilities would make this a truly cheesy article. If the items mentioned here whet your thirst for other mouse-related interface enhancements, check out the numerous other utilities that came up in a TidBITS Talk thread recently.


USB Overdrive -- The prolific Alessandro Levi Montalcini, perhaps best known for his macro program KeyQuencer, has released USB Overdrive, a universal USB driver that claims to handle all USB mice, trackballs, joysticks, and gamepads from any manufacturer. So if you have a Mac with USB ports (or if you buy a Keyspan USB card for an older Mac), you can now use a wide variety of USB devices that were designed for PCs.


USB Overdrive doesn't let you just use these devices, though, it lets you access all the buttons, switches, wheels, and controls that may appear on them. You can link a scrolling wheel to document scrolling, Control-clicking to a second mouse button, or complex macros to other controls (not surprising, given's Alessandro's experience with KeyQuencer; see "KeyQuencer - QuicKeys Quencher?" in TidBITS-351). Function mapping can be either global or specific to certain applications, and USB Overdrive can work with multiple USB devices at once.


New to the recently released USB Overdrive 1.1 are an auto-scroll feature that doesn't require a mouse wheel, new application-specific mouse speed settings, added support for more USB devices, and more. Frankly, if you have a USB-capable Mac, USB Overdrive opens up the entire world of PC USB hardware, which helps everyone involved. USB Overdrive 1.1 is $20 shareware and a 250K download.


TheMouse2B -- If USB Overdrive is overkill or if you don't have USB, consider Matthew Dolan's TheMouse2B, a control panel that lets you configure the second mouse button on your mouse, should you have a mouse with multiple buttons but no customization software. You can configure the second mouse button to act as a single-click, double-click, click-lock (for dragging), or Control-click for accessing contextual menus (actually, any modifier click is possible, so you could have it Option-click to switch and hide applications). TheMouse2B reportedly works with a variety of ADB and USB two-button mice under System 7.0 and later (Mac OS 8 or later recommended). A 97K download, TheMouse2B is $10 shareware.


Snap-To and Scrollability -- A popular option in the Kensington MouseWorks software is the capability to have the mouse cursor snap immediately to default buttons in dialog boxes that appear. I use it and like it for the most part, although I occasionally end up clicking the wrong button, especially when faced with a number of dialog boxes in sequence. For people who don't use Kensington pointing devices, Eden Sherry's $5 shareware Snap-To control panel offers the same functionality. Snap-To sports a few features beyond the basic Kensington MouseWorks functionality as well. You can disable Snap-To in Open and Save dialog boxes, where you usually need to navigate your hard disk or enter a file name before clicking the default Open or Save buttons. And Snap-To can move the cursor to the default button in a smooth gliding motion, rather than the abrupt snap that can cause you to lose track of where the mouse cursor had been. Snap-To is an 81K download and works on any Mac with System 7.0 or greater.


Eden has another clever utility called Scrollability that offers two additional ways of scrolling windows. You may be familiar with the "grabber" hand method of scrolling in some graphics and layout applications, such as QuarkXPress, PageMaker, or Photoshop. The Finder added that feature (try Command-dragging a Finder window) in Mac OS 8.5, but with Scrollability, you can grab-scroll windows in almost any application (and you can exclude those applications that conflict with Scrollability). For grab scrolling, you can define any set of modifier keys and limit the area in which you can cause grab-scrolling to happen. If holding down modifier keys is too annoying for you (and you don't have a multiple-button mouse or trackball that could have a button defined to the modifier key combination), Scrollability's other feature is to define an area (10 percent of the window height, by default) on the top and bottom of each window. Moving the cursor into those areas turns it into an up or down-pointing arrow and scrolls the window. It's not for everyone, but if you find the standard scroll bars clumsy, it's worth a try. Scrollability is $10 shareware and is a 134K download.


SmartScroll -- Other scrolling innovations in the Mac OS 8.5 Finder are proportional thumbs that reflect the length of the window contents and live scrolling that moves the content of the window along with the scroll thumb. But those features are available only in the Finder and some updated applications. What if you want to take advantage of them in older applications? Then you'll need Marc Moini's SmartScroll, which makes these features available across all applications. SmartScroll works on any Mac released since 1990 running System 7.0 or later. It's $12 shareware and is a 208K download.


Prestissimo -- A long time ago, I used a utility called DoubleScroll, which provided double arrows on both ends of the scroll bar. DoubleScroll is still around, though it doesn't work with Mac OS 8. Although the Mac OS 8.5 Appearance control panel's Smart Scrolling feature can put double arrows on the scroll bars, it provides only one set at the bottom and right ends of the scroll bars. Luckily, a freeware control panel called Prestissimo can restore the functionality originally offered by DoubleScroll. Along with giving you better control over the keys used for application switching and the Application Palette in Mac OS 8.5, Prestissimo enables double scroll arrows at both ends of the scroll bars. Ironically, Prestissimo only reveals functionality that already exists in Mac OS 8.5 but that Apple chose to hide. If, like me, you've missed double scroll arrows on both ends of the scroll bars, give Prestissimo a try.


No Reason to Grouse about Your Mouse -- It's possible you've never needed or desired any added mouse functionality, and if so, Apple would probably agree with you, considering how unchanged mouse functionality has remained over the years. However, you may be surprised how one or two little utilities can enhance to your use of the Macintosh.


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