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Alternate Limb Controllers

A recent discussion on the net regarding alternate pointing devices inspired me to try running my mouse with my feet. It works well, though I need a longer mouse cord to maintain the necessary position for any length of time (the cord is not long enough for the mouse to rest on the floor). For some touch typists or those with limited desk space, the mouse has always been limiting. One’s hand must jump off the keyboard to move the mouse, and the mouse often competes with papers, electronic gizmos, food, and plants for space. I have read heated debates about the pros and cons of removing one’s hand from the keyboard. Some advocate track balls as the solution to the space problem, and I myself have passionately argued for a keyboard offering the j (or the f) key as a mini-trackball so I could type and keep my hands on the keyboard while clicking and dragging. (I had a number of possible schemes for typing a j (or f) when the actual letter was needed.)

The Outbound Portable features a pointing device called the Isobar. This bar, located just below the space bar, slides left and right and rolls up and down. When you push the bar, you perform the equivalent of a mouse click. I found this to be a tad awkward when I ran into the mouse pad equivalent of running out of room on the mouse pad, but on the whole I liked the Isobar, though it has received mixed reviews from others I know (like me! -Adam).

Mouses for a number of Unix-style workstations sport three buttons to allow users to give different commands depending on what combinations of keys are pushed. Proposals for a Mac mouse that does this were greeted by statements that the Control-click and Shift-click options accomplish the same tasks.

Recently one person proposed adding two dials to the keyboard for scrolling. This would be handy, though a number of programs define the arrow keys for that task. Another person mentioned a company that may be working on an organ pedal-like mechanism for foot input. Lest we forget that not everyone is so lucky to have the full use of all limbs and digits, it is important that companies pursue alternate devices for controlling computers. One possibility in that arena is a head-mounted input device, although as C Irby points out, that leads to the <option>-<shift>-<click>-<headbutt>.

Most people use a mouse and don’t question its prominence in the input device category. Some use trackballs, a few use styluses, and even fewer use devices where their fingers do the walking on special pads. I’m looking forward to the development of devices that use feet, thus freeing my fingers for typing and letting me exercise my weak arches in the process. All that would really be necessary would be the mouse unit built into the toe-end of a slipper, though some attention should be paid to proper foot orientation to avoid overuse injuries. Freeing the feet would also allow the use of multiple pointing devices and multiple cursors. If the opposable thumb made the difference in human evolution, just think what the opposable mouse could do for computer evolution.

Information from:
Tonya Byard & Adam C. Engst — TidBITS editors
James G. Smith — [email protected]
C. Irby — [email protected]
Robert Minich — [email protected]
James G. Smith — [email protected]
Dana E. Keil — [email protected]

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