A scroll wheel experiment

November 15, 2011

On the one hand, I am firmly a fan of three button mice where the middle button is a real button, not a scroll wheel. On the other hand, I'm becoming increasingly convinced that having a scroll wheel is useful (partly because my laptop has one as part of the trackpad). In order to reconcile these competing desires, I've decided to experiment with a hack.

(In an ideal world, the solution would be a three button mouse with a scroll wheel on the side, as I've wished for before. In this world, while such a thing may exist I haven't been able to find it, at least not for a moderate amount of money (cf).)

What I want is a scroll wheel. I don't have a bare one sitting around but we have plenty of standard USB scroll wheel optical mice, so I've taken one and plunked it down to the left of my keyboard (my usual mouse is on the right side). Since all I want is the scroll wheel, I've fixed the mouse so that it doesn't track (with the low tech approach of a piece of paper taped over the sensor on the bottom) and used xinput to turn off all of its regular buttons. This insures that I don't have to worry about any side effects of touching the mouse to use the scroll wheel.

(I briefly tried the USB mouse without these tweaks and found it annoying; I had to be careful not to shift the mouse and I was worrying about accidental mouse button clicks.)

I'm not sure that I'm going to use the scroll wheel regularly. There are obviously a number of annoying aspects to this setup, and I already know that I like things like middle button autoscroll in Firefox better than the scroll wheel. But that's why I call this an experiment.

(Some of my past interface experiments have been quite successful. Others, not so much. For instance, I still don't have a modern man page viewer that I like better than just running man in a terminal window.)

PS: one of the things that will make this work, if it does work, is All in One Gestures for Firefox, which makes it convenient to do a number of things via the mouse that usually require keyboard control. I normally use Firefox with one hand mostly idle on the keyboard and one hand on the mouse; with the scroll wheel, I wind up with the keyboard hand moving to the scroll wheel instead.

PPS: I discovered xinput via Neil Burlock, who shows a more permanent way of disabling or remapping mouse buttons if you want to do that. The USB mouse I'm using has a very generic identification string, so I decided that I didn't want to be that forceful just in case.

Written on 15 November 2011.
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Last modified: Tue Nov 15 01:04:55 2011
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