Scroll Different — Mouse Engineering Moves Up Top

Mouse technology has advanced a lot over the past two decades. The Apple Lisa-derived mouse with its DE-9 connector and thumb screws that attached it securely to my first Mac, a 1988 Mac Plus, was a pretty crude piece of engineering, with an analog ball of course, and a noisy, long-travel, somewhat stiff single button. Everything that came after that was an improvement.

However, most engineering effort with computer mice has been directed toward I/O interface (ADB, USB) and tracking sensor (optical, laser) advances and more recently wireless technologies (RF, Bluetooth), as well as improved ergonomics. Multi-button mice with scroll wheels became the standard configuration (although not with Apple mice) in the mid-’90s, popularized by Microsoft’s IntelliMouse Explorer, but with a few exceptions like the minuscule trackball on Apple’s 2005 Mighty Mouse, scrolling hardware technology didn’t change much between 1996 and 2006 when Logitech unveiled its MicroGear Precision Scroll Wheel.

Steam-Age Technology Revisited

The MicroGear wheel represented refinement more than revolution, with the wheel itself fashioned of relatively heavy metal instead of lightweight plastic. While enhanced durability would be a side-benefit, mouse scroll wheels have not been prone to failure from wear, and the engineering rationale behind what is essentially a heavy flywheel — steam-age technology revisited — is that when in freewheel mode physical inertia keeps it spinning and able to whip through long documents with minimum effort. If you prefer standard scroll wheel click detents, they can be toggled on and off by pressing down on the scroll wheel.

All of that works just fine with Apple’s standard OS X mouse drivers, but if you install Logitech’s Control Center driver software, the MicroGear mouse will also support lateral scrolling by pressing the wheel to one side or the other, and a raft of programming options. The Logitech MicroGear Precision Scroll Wheel is used in a wide range of Logitech mice, such as the Logitech V550 Nano Cordless Laser Mouse and it represents the high water mark on mouse scroll wheel technology so far in my experience.

Wheel-Less Scrolling

However, while the MicroGear scroll wheel, as noted, is arguably the most perfected implementation of generic analog scroll wheel technology, there’s something new and different in mouse scrolling available this fall, namely the new wheel-less Touch Scroll four-way optical scrolling technology Targus has introduced with its new line of “for Mac” computer mice. To actuate Touch Scroll and its Quick Scroll function, you move your fingertip laterally or longitudinally on the optical sensor that takes a place of a conventional scroll wheel at the center top of the mouse.

Scrolling speed is determined by how quickly and far you move your finger. I’ve tested two different Quick Scroll Targus mice, Bluetooth Laser and RF, and find that it works very well, although I found scrolling in small increments for precision tasks wasn’t quite as easy to modulate as it is with a good scroll wheel like the MicroGear (although better than some conventional scroll wheels I’ve used), but I think that could be partly a matter of getting used to this mode of scrolling. It’s actually quite intuitive, and lateral (sideways) scrolling requires no proprietary driver software, although Targus does offer the latter for a variety of programmable button functions with these mice.

Touch Scroll is available with the $49.99 Targus For Mac Wireless Mouse and $69.99 Bluetooth Laser Mouse.