I have been a huge fan of the Microsoft Trackball Explorer device ever since it came out and still really like the ones that I have left. Unfortunately, it is getting harder to use as the ball no longer rolls very well after not using it for a 5-10 minutes.
So, my search for another trackball started for my setup at work. One of the co-workers traded in her Logitech Cordless Optical TrackMan trackball for another pointing device. Like the Microsoft Trackball Explorer, the ball is controlled with the pointer and/or middle finger, rather than the thumb, and actually has enough buttons to program. The way that I’ve programmed both the Microsoft and the Logitech trackballs have been to assign the third and fourth buttons (in the case of the Logitech, I use the back and forward buttons above the left-click button) to be the equivalent to Copy and Paste. When I program it, I actually use the keyboard shortcut of
CTRL+V respectively; that way, I can use it to also stop long running scripts or programs on remote servers that I’ve SSH’d into with PuTTY.
The biggest problems that I have with the Logitech trackball is that, being cordless, it runs through rechargeable batteries like Yoshi does with berries and Koopa Troopas in Super Mario World. Also, the freaking wireless base that Logitech uses makes it absolutely non-portable nor works well when using the laptop and trackball on a small area (be it a laptop cart or a small desk). I would be thrilled if Logitech could update it to use their super tiny USB receiver or convert it to Bluetooth; though, that will not solve the pathetic battery life. Even better, make an identical version that is corded.
Microsoft decided to kill off the Trackball Explorer years ago and used ones go for an obscene amount on various online selling or auction sites. Microsoft also decided that nobody wanted the awesome Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro with the proper key switches and tactile feedback. The smaller Natural Keyboard Elite is no replacement for the Pro, nor is their new attempts of an ergonomic keyboard. All of the new ones have the mushiest keys and have the irritating F-Lock un-feature that drives me batty.
I have also given the Kensington Expert Mouse and their Orbit Trackball with Scroll Ring on several occasions. Neither are proper replacements for the Trackball Explorer, as the Expert Mouse only makes sense when used on a proper desk (the thing is pretty darn large) and the scroll ring is no replacement for a proper scroll wheel found on either the aforementioned Microsoft and Logitech trackballs. The Orbit Trackball is also off the consideration list, due to the lack of programmable buttons and the click-free “Scroll Ring” is not even worth uttering “meh”.
I wish someone could buy the Trackball Explorer design from Microsoft and produce a high-quality and updated version. It would also need to be corded and easily programmed under Windows, OS X and Linux/BSD. I am willing to spend upwards to $70 for each one and would probably buy two upfront.
Ergonomics is becoming more important to me and a good trackball paired up with a keyboard with proper switches and tactile feedback (yep, I know of a couple and am thinking about getting one in a little bit) would help reduce the strain of coding, configuring and documenting. I’m willing to pay more upfront if it helps reduce the chance of having surgery done on my wrists.