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A touchpad is not a mouse, or at least not a good one (utoronto.ca)
31 points by zdw 15 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

Reading this makes me appreciate my Magic Trackpad even more.

I hated trackpads for years, until I was forced to use a Magic Trackpad lying around when my mouse broke. After a week I was a convert and I haven't used a mouse for years.

Clicking and dragging with one hand, easy, right clicking easy, precision stuff in Photoshop, etc, no problem.. it's nothing like a typical PC trackpad at all, indeed it should probably be considered an entirely separate type of product.

Of course, different strokes for different folks too! I know people who swear by trackballs or those weird "nipple" things in the middle of IBM laptops and I couldn't get my head around either.

I think the keys are that the friction is so much less than on comparable trackpads and the precision is much higher.

I'm currently switching from OSX to Windows but a hard requirement was the ability to use my MagicTrackpad on Win10 with tap to click and 3 finger drag (both help tremendously with my RSI).

There's a pretty awesome little piece of software called "Magic Trackpad Utilities" that enables that - https://magicutilities.net/magic-trackpad/features

I'm using Magic Trackpad 2 right now (I strongly prefer touchpads to mice and needed something quiet). It's just a typical touchpad, but it moves parts of movement handling from the driver into the firmware, so it's a bit harder for the software to screw it up. It feels like a larger version of the Synaptics touchpad in my laptop, but with a haptic feedback engine instead of physical clicking.

Having said that, driver support is notoriously bad for most touchpads out there. My laptop touchpad feels pretty bad with libinput, for instance. With synaptics driver it's very Magic Trackpad like - and it's a Lenovo laptop from 2013. The same touchpad feels practically unusable on Windows.

I’ve long suspected that most people (who use a Mac, at least) who still use mice simply haven’t tried tap to click.

Once I discovered that there was no going back. The sheer amount of unnecessary energy wasted on clicking, not to mention the other great gestures.

I'm just an anecdote but I can't imagine I'm alone in hating 'tap to click'. It's the first thing I disable after a clean OS install.

You are not alone. I find that tap-to-click results in erroneous clicks on a very regular basis.

I'm a touchpad lover and I tend to disable 'tap to click' as well.

Tap to click was the thing I loved the most when switched to a MacBook (ok, other laptops have it too, but when the entire trackpad is imprecise, tap to click makes things worse). My trackpad broke the “click” and I don’t miss it.

Maybe I am an exception but I deactivate tapping on all touchpads (Apple or non-Apple) I use. I find the lack of feedback annoying and if I disable it I can also rest my fingers on the touchpad without causing input.

Question out of ignorance, how do you click on the Magic Trackpad without tap to click? From images it doesn't seem to have any button.

The entire trackpad is a button.

It used to be a physical click, but recently they’ve switched to the same mechanism used for the last generation(s) of iPhones, where the home button wasn’t actually a button, but gave virtual Taptic feedback.

It's very good, but a mouse (e.g the Apple mouse) still has better ergonomics, especially for larger movements and longer use.

nthing all the comments that these are criticisms of bad touchpads, not all touchpads, and that the Apple ones with OSX are great. For the click and drag motion I have it set to be a three finger drag (no click) and it works great. And two finger scrolling is much better than a mouse's wheel since you can scroll in 2 dimensions.

I use a Windows laptop, too, and between the inferior trackpad and inane use of ctrl (as opposed to command which is comfortably under the thumb) for all modifiers, it just doesn't feel as efficient or ergonomic to me.

Maybe you just need a better trackpad implementation. On macOS:

- Right click: tap with two fingers.

- Move pointer while button is pressed: quickly tap twice to press button, move finger on trackpad, press a third time to release. (Although, this behavior is not the default and has to be activated in the system settings.)

Personally, I've been using trackpads for 13 years now and I prefer them over mice. I use an external trackpad at home.

Edit: paragraphs.

For moving the pointer while the button is pressed, why not instead click and hold with one finger and drag around using another? I usually click with my thumb and drag using my index finger.

You can also double tap and drag while holding the second tap, i'm OK with trackpads but what i find limiting is the area vs resolution ratio, if i set the resolution high or speed low to have more precision i need to lift my finger several times instead with the mouse i'm only limited by the size of my desk, also since i use an intellimouse i have 2 extra buttons and I don't wear my laptop, one thing that i hate about new trendy aesthetic minimalistic trackpads is that they have no clearly defined boundaries so i have to drag my finger across the whole palmrest to find it without looking.

I find that straining after a while. Also double tap to press the button and third tap to release has the advantage that you can lift your finger from the trackpad while moving. That is very convenient.

That requires you to contort your hand if making uncommon patterns. If you only need to double click, you can move your entire hand as needed because you’re not anchored to the click.

With macOS and BetterTouchTool, I set up trackpad to do so much:

- 2 finger swipe left/right: go back and forward

- 3 finger tap: open link in new tab

- 3 finder swipe left/right: move between tabs

- 3 finger swipe up: new tab/window

- 3 finger swipe down: close tab/window

- 4 finger swipe left/right: move between virtual desktops

There are so many other gestures available too. While I prefer having a desktop and a mouse if I'm going to spend hours working on a project...the Apple trackpads are still the best out there imo.

I’ve never consciously thought about this but this seems to be how I use my windows 10 touchpads intuitively. The only difference I notice is three finger swiping for window shifting is better on Macs, though it is poorly implemented on windows.

This might be hardware specific implementation though?

The article implies to me he is just frustrated that his workflow is different with a touchpad and is hitting status quo bias

win10 has already perfected virtual desktop switching using windows key+tab. all they need to do is link three finger swipes to it

This is actually exactly what they have implemented it to do, it’s just shitty. On a Mac you can comfortably swipe left and right with three fingers.

On windows swiping with three fingers will confuse it. However if you rest your three fingers for a moment, left and right swipes are equivalent to alt tab and alt shift tab. Up swipes is a short hand for windows tab. Down swipe minimizes everything. The design is fine, but the implementation isn’t good enough to be useful.

have you experienced this problem with the surface trackpad or whatever they call ms certified trackpads?

The "move pointer while button is pressed" behavior has been there forever, even on Win/Linux. Two-finger right clicking requires multitouch support which is not universal, however.

How do you do a middle-click?

I got used to a trackpoint. It reduces moves away from standard palm n finger position. Thinkpad notebooks have quite good ones, Thinkpad usb keyboards are worse. There is also EnduraPro mechanical keyboard but the trackpoint is reportedly bad.

I was going to post something similar. Thank you for saying this.

I'll add that my recent laptop history was a series of thinkpads running linux, and most recently a newish MBP. The MBP reminds me how much I hate trackpads. I miss being able to click and drag w/o figuring out a shortcut. I miss not having the cursor shoot off into lala land when I accidentally drag the heel of my hand across the trackpad. I miss not having to move my fingers from the home row in order to move the cursor.

My next laptop will have a trackpoint.

This. I had an X201 for a while that didn’t have a touchpad. That was absolutely on the mark.

It always amazes me the number of people who I've worked with who only use the touchpad on their laptops all day - in my last job it was about 90% of the office. On top of the post's complaints, they're also not at all ergonomic and uncomfortable to use for long periods (not that normal mice are fantastically ergonomic either, but at least using something to the side rather than directly in front of you)

To a degree, it's just what you're used to I guess. I can't control the old trackpoint laptop mice at all accurately, but some of my friends swear by them and can't bear touchpads. But then I've never owned a laptop with one, while they grew up with them.

One suggestion for the author that might make their "click and drag" problems easier - I can double tap (without fully clicking down the touchpad) then keep the second tap held down to have the same effect as moving a mouse with left click held down. I think this is a Gnome/Cinnamon option though, touchpad support and features can vary wildly on Linux, so it's worth looking into different options there (eg libinput vs synaptics).

Ultimately you either need to get used to it, adjust your habits/software, or plug in a mouse. It's easy enough to see why Mac users like the touchpad, since the OS and most of the programs are designed to play well with a touchpad. But it's not surprising that a 30 year old terminal emulator doesn't work so great with them.

> but some of my friends swear by them and can't bear touchpads

My first laptop was an IBM ThinkPad 600X (late '90s) and it only had a trackpoint. I got so used to using it that even 20 years later I still find my hand going to that nubbin when using a laptop that has one (especially Lenovos, I still find the trackpoint implementation on them far superior to what HP or Dell offer). I also use the trackpad if I have to but usually I'll use a regular mouse.

But even so I think the only benefit trackpoints/pads offer is that you can use the laptop in a position where a mouse wouldn't work. Like when having to hold the laptop in one hand, or using in on your lap with no room to operate a mouse. Usability wise I find the mouse better, even enough to defeat my trackpoint-driven nostalgia.

Personally I'm all-in on the trackpad - I replaced my 8-button MX1000 with an external Apple Magic Trackpad the moment it was released. To me, touch gestures are more comfortable and versatile than mouse buttons and gestures.

Edit: on the Mac you can tap-and-a-half in order to perform drags without having to keep a finger on the trackpad. The option ("drag lock") is enabled in accessibility settings, and it's the first thing I turn on.

At work I tried to use a mouse for a change and found that I really missed being able to easily perform gestures. I grabbed a Magic Trackpad within a week.

I'd recommend the author to try a magic trackpad 2. I used to hate trackpads in general, but once I tried this one, I never looked back at mouses.

I bought one, and regretted it ever since. It's nowhere near as good as the integrated one in Macbook Pro. Magic trackpad 2 latency is absolutely unbearable. So it's just collecting dust.

Did you also try it over USB instead of Bluetooth?

Yeah, but to my disappointment (and surprise) it didn't affect latency.


Although you could probably make a good case for Mousen if your neck was beardy enough.

My current setup consists of the following:

- A XD75 ortholinear keyboard with the default split layout (looks like this but I have relegendable keycaps [1] )

- A Contour design RollerMouse Red Plus [2]

- A SwiftPoint ProPoint mouse (the latest addition)

An I am looking forward to maybe replacing the RollerMouse Red with a high end touchpad (at the moment the only existing one is the Apple Magic Trackpad 2)

I find that this setup allows me to more evenly distribute the effort between the hands. I can use arrow/PU/PD/Home/End with either hand and I can mouse with either hand.

The ability to switch hands and easier (though less precise) scrolling is why I usually prefer touchpads.

On the laptop I have a touchpad with buttons both above and below the touchpad but no clicking or force sensing on the touchpad. I have it configured so that all the buttons below are primary click and one of the buttons above is secondary click and tapping is disabled(because no feedback). The goal was the same, make it easy to use with either hand. The old MacBook trackpads that had a button were great at this. Having one button to keep pressed with the thumb made dragging easy on the trackpad.

On a six button touchpad there is potential for chording but since I didn't get used to chording on a mouse I did not try it on a touchpad.

[1] https://kprepublic.com/products/stainless-steel-bent-case-fo...

[2] https://contour-design.co.uk/produkt/rollermouse-red/

Bad touchpad is certainly not a good mouse. But I won’t trade MacbookPro’s touchpad for any mouse. [I’d trade its keyboard though :( ]

I can't imagine a life with a MBP touchpad and a mouse, but no keyboard, though. /s

I didn't understand the complaint about click+drag, but then remembered that other people use trackpads differently than I do: I turn off tap to click, let my pointer finger rest on the left-click button, and my middle finger do all of the movement on the pad - with pretty high acceleration, so I rarely move out of an area of a square centimeter. That square centimeter gets me halfway across the screen, and lifting the finger and retracing the same motion gets me the other half. To right-click, I bend my ringfinger, to right-click and drag I turn my hand to a more north-south position rather than the northwest-southeast position it's normally in.

So when I'm using the trackpad to move the pointer and left-click, I'm barely moving. It just looks like I'm quickly drawing tiny circles with my middle finger. Left-click and drag is trivial and accurate.

If you use your forefinger for everything, I could see how a trackpad would be annoying.

If there was any hardware design change I would make, it would be to always have a second set of buttons at the top of the pad (which I have on the thinkpad), but to lower the distance from the bottom to the top of the trackpad to make using the top-right button easier to reach with a completely relaxed splay of the fingers. This would also have the effect of making my style of trackpad usage comfortable for both left and right handers, and the two unused buttons, along the center line of the hand (beneath and above the middle finger) can be mapped to other usages (such as center-click.) I might in that case be tempted to map my compose key to the top-center click.

The big point is that if you use a trackpad with your middle finger, using your pointer to left-click, it's an extremely relaxed position. The minor point is that with this style, trackpads are pretty gigantic, and a one-inch square track "spot" would be more than adequate, and permit a second row of buttons to lie low enough to make right-clicking just as relaxed.

That was a lot to read, I hope I'm explaining this well.

Tried trackpads in the past, and ended up with sore fingers from the repeated drag fiction. I’m not the biggest fan of my mouse either - best device I had was an old Logitech trackball, sadly they seem to have stopped making them now and I haven’t found a suitable replacement.

They still make them but only wireless now. I have a couple of M570 and they are one of the best trackballs IMO. I mostly use them for CAD though as I could never get used to a trackpad for that. Trackpad for the rest though but only because I’m too lazy to plug the trackball in every time.

Thank you!! I could have sworn every time I looked in the past ~10 years Logitech only did trackballs in the centre!

Roughly 40% of the article is in parentheses, including half the paragraphs. I found this amusing to contemplate, because I use parentheses a lot myself—it was like I was reading something I’d written myself! I especially use parentheses for entire lines on chat systems.

The strongest evidence for trackpads being objectively inferior to mice is the lack of pro-level FPS players using them.

That's really just evidence that they are inferior for competitive FPS play. You could equally say that the strongest evidence for mice being objectively inferior to graphics tablets is the lack of pro artists using them for drawing.

Your core point is interesting, and I'd have to agree (in the sense that the nature of the task needs to be considered for the comparison to be meaningful).

However, the main reason why artists use pads for drawing is purely for the pressure sensitivity, which means we are comparing apples and oranges. As in, 3 axis controllers vs 2 axis. Without that difference, the counterexample would be less striking, and meaningful and objective comparisons can be made. E.g. between mice, joysticks, or handheld thumbpad sticks. For activities which require both rapid movements and accuracy (which could be aiming in an fps or clicking an icon), mice do tend to be objectively superior, on average. I say / concede this as a full time trackball user (due to ergonomic reasons).

My main point being that some things are generalisable, and the no free lunch theorem doesn't mean that each controller is meaningfully best at some niche.

I don't think pressure sensitivity is the main reason for using a graphics tablet, although it is a valuable feature. Try signing your name, writing the alphabet or drawing a circle with a mouse - even without pressure sensitivity it is much easier and more precise to use a pen. Handwriting input doesn't really need pressure sensitivity but is mostly only useful with a pen rather than a mouse.

Most people prefer being able to write directly on the screen with a Cintiq or Surface but separate graphics tablets are still popular. A few people learn to draw quite well with a mouse but for most people using a pen works better.

I'm not sure I'd agree as to what is the main feature there; certainly most people prefer writing using something resembling a pen / pencil, but I'd argue that is mostly to do with the carry over from a previously learned skill (which is nontrivial and schools spend years drilling into us as kids). Re: pressure, I coincidentally I recently spent a fair bit of time researching graphics tablets for art purposes, and generally the main point every professional artist agreed on was "don't waste your money on a tablet that doesn't have pressure sensitivity, you need it". It tends to also also correctly simulate what they are already used to, which is the previous point.

The main thing though is that as much as you are probably irked by people generalising overly much, I'm similarly irked when people go the opposite direction and generalise too little. It tends to come up on many levels, a silly example being /r/fitness's popular opinion about pushups which goes along the lines of "doing a lot of pushups won't make you generally stronger in the least, it just makes you able to do more pushups", which I'd argue is a needless.

Again, I think you have an interesting point which can be considered further. E.g, why are joysticks and yokes more popular (or thought to be superior) for the controls of real planes or sims?. I suspect the fine control, and being able to separate the axes / operate them more independently likely play a big role. Hence, it's likely down to the task, or rather, groupings of similar tasks.

I'm no artist but I prefer a pen over a mouse for drawing / writing. Pressure sensitivity is great but I'd still take a pen without over a mouse for drawing and I suspect most artists would agree. Yes you want pressure sensitivity but no that's not the only reason to prefer a pen.

Familiarity may be a factor in using pens but it's a general human trait that a precision grip https://psychologydictionary.org/precision-grip/ works better for certain types of fine detail tasks. It's not just a matter of familiarity with non digital pens.

I think FPSs are a good proxy for mouse usage in general, because they require a balance of speed and accuracy. RTSs are more demanding of speed (higher actions per second), and drawing programs are more demanding of accuracy (which as you point out makes graphics tablets better here), but FPSs need a wide variety of mouse techniques. There is no "competitive office suite operation" so competitive FPS play is the most demanding test of this kind of pointer control.

Well, you are correct on both counts.

I actually came to comment on this matter. Anecdotal evidence of several people I know is that playing FPS games with trackpad (pretty much of a torture) improves touchpad intuitive usage to an extent where they don't notice any discomfort with it in daily life.

Perhaps, hand-eye coordianation training that happens in FPS shooters translates to better touchpad usage in normal cases.

(Still, I'm told that trying to competitively play FPS games with it just sucks).

8 years later, Johnny Lee's assertion[1] in his 5-minute presentation on The Myth of the Dying Mouse remains very much relevant.

[1] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kuhVfuhCcG4

For me, gestures on an apple trackpad eliminated the need for a mouse. They have had it for years and imo is one of the biggest differences in computing experience between an Apple machine to a windows.

Pfft, you'll pry my MS Trackball Explorer from my cold dead hands.

Elecom, though, is making some interesting potential replacements...

As anybody that plays bullet (1 minute) chess can tell you. No trackpad can measure up to a mouse. Not Apple, not Windows.

That's certainly true for clicking on a target but with a trackpad you can swipe to scroll/ pan and pinch to zoom and rotate giving you a much more expressive interface for many tasks. And as others have noted the difference between Apple's trackpad and others is vast.

> As anybody that plays bullet (1 minute) chess can tell you. No trackpad can measure up to a mouse.

That's not exactly a common requirement.

It doesn't mean I, a software developer, am substantially less productive with a trackpad. It does mean a mouse is better for clicking, pointing, and drag and drop.

> Probably this means I should set up some keyboard bindings for 'paste'

Shift+Insert is already there.

Your problem is that you're using a bad trackpad with Windows; the fact that your computer has a bad trackpad and you're using Windows doesn't make trackpads bad.

Also many of the things you complain about would be solved if you learnt to use your keyboard instead of using mouse gestures.

The article is about Linux not Windows trackpad use. Because three mouse buttons have been pretty standard on Windows mice for a long time there is quite a bit of software that makes use of them on both Linux and Windows, more so than on a Mac where software could only assume one mouse button for a long time. This does make trackpads a bit more of an adjustment on Windows and Linux.

I use a large Wacom tablet in touch mode much of the time. It works pretty well with gestures for left click, right click and left drag but you do end up needing alternatives for right drag and middle click and drag because you run out of fingers. That's an adjustment for software like Unity or Blender that use them in their default control setups in Windows for actions that are not suited to keyboard (like camera control).

Right click is not required on Windows/Linux, except perhaps in highly specialized software - for the most common use, there's a dedicated [MENU] key and it has been there since Windows 95 introduced it, together with the super/logo key.

Linux, that's even worse. At least Synaptics on Windows comes with a control panel, on Linux you're stranded reading a man page, writing a file and putting it in /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d/, then restarting Xorg a thousand times until you get it right.

And then if you're using libinput instead of synaptics, which is the default on most distros now... just forget about it, because whatever you need is simply not implemented yet.

Using Linux on the desktop is a self-inflicted wound, and I can't believe this guy would write such a post saying that "trackpads sucks" when he uses Linux. Doing that is at best dishonest and at worst malicious.

I have linux/libinput on my thinkpad T470. I have nothing to complain about the trackpad. I can do almost everything a two-button mouse can do with just the trackpad. I can left-click, right-click, multiple clicks, drag and scroll with just the trackpad. There are three mouse buttons that let me do additional things or some things much more easily.

Besides that there is an app Touchegg that lets you do more with the touchpad. But I haven't bothered using it because I am pretty happy with my setup.

I imagine that part of the reason there are so many diehard trackpoint enthusiasts out there is because trackpad support in Linux is so frustrating. It's the one thing that I have never managed to make work and feel "right" on a Linux laptop (with the exception of fingerprint readers).

Hum... My Linux desktop has a pretty nice "System Controls" application with all the mouse settings... That I only ever visited to disable double touch clicks and never opened again, because the defaults are quite nice.

So, yes, it's a nightmare.

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