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Mouse manipulation
The key to direct manipulation.

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

A human interface is supposed to be centered around the user. The HI designer should think of what the user wants to accomplish, and make it easier for the user. In making the system easier to user there are many "illusions" that the user buys into. If you have the mouse-driver at the lowest level of the system it will always update. This means that no matter what the user is doing the mouse will respond smoothly. The Mac is testimonial to this philosophy, most of the time even if your computer has crashed the mouse is still active and smooth. Microsoft didn't see this as a necessity. The result is a mouse that jerks and jumps much more than the Mac, even on machines much faster. (There is are two exceptions on the Mac; AppleTalk and Floppy Drives can interfere with the mouse... but in Windows it seems to be ANY I/O or too much CPU load that will interfere). This greatly changes the illusion of the mouse and cursor being one -- and that is the whole premise of a GUI, to make the user feel connected to the computer, not frustrated at it!

Velocity tracking

Apple decided that the mouse was very important. So the OS was designed with the mouse in mind. Not only is the machine fast in response to the mouse, and are targets put in predictable places, but the mouse is velocity sensing. This means that the faster you move the mouse, the further the mouse moves. This goes well with apples targeting, having the menubar at the top of the screen, and with people getting used to things along predictable edges/locations. The results are that the Mac mouse FEELS better, even though many can't explain why. There are people that are used to the way Windows deals with the mouse, and they find the unfettered freedom of the Mac mouse to be too much for them, so it is somewhat subjective. However, if someone grew up driving an old slow-big edsel and got into a Ferrari the first time, they might be uncomfortable as well; that does NOT mean that the edsel is a better car, even subjectively.

It is rumored that the first time Bill Gates saw the Mac he asked, "What kind of Hardware are you using for the cursor". The irony is that the worlds richest software person didn't think of the Mac mouse being done in Software.

Another important illusion is system response. The user wants IMMEDIATE feedback (or sooner) on things. This means that when the user pulls down a menu, or goes to the next menu, they want immediate feedback. Even if the machine is technically slower, it will not FEEL slower if it responds when you want it to. Apple tied their Menu Management in as a very high priority function. The results are a Menu bar and menus on an old slow Mac that respond better than MS-Windows menus on a machine that is 8 times as powerful. Things like this have contributed to the longevity of Macs, and are part of the reason why the average Mac has double the effective life-span of an Intel box. MacOS still runs on machines 11 years old, while Win95 runs only on 386 or above (about 6-7 years old), and most people will be forced into 486's or above, but even compared to pentiums I find application context changes, window redraws, and menu updates much faster on Macs - even much older Macs.

A reader [Tony Ochoa,] wrote an amusing observation. He is a suupport professional and noticed that PC mice seem to die at the rate of one or two a year per machine, while Macs have a mouse death rate of about one every 5+ years per machine (despite higher usage). He hypothetizes that the reason for the Macs longer life span (10 times+ the PC) is because of the Macs better UI.

Through observation he has noticed that PC users often click, and then click again when they miss, and then click while they are waiting -- and click harder when they are frustrated (and waiting). The PC has the status hidden on the bottom of windows, and so they click when the machine is thinking. The lack of velosity tracking and pinning targets to intelligent places means that they miss targets more often (and are more frustrated) -- and so they click even harder. Then there is often two or three button mice on the PC, which are more complex and have less plastics/mechanism to handle the clicking. All this compounded on cheaper mechanisms and manufacturing of the PC over all - and the results are that the mouse is a much more enjoyable experience on the Mac, with a much cheaper support cost.

Created: 01/21/95
Updated: 11/09/02

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