I admit that my initial reaction to the OpenOfficeMouse (to the right in the above graphic) wasn’t … positive. After all, I’ve been acclimating to my new Apple MagicMouse (seen on the left above) for the past week and really like it, especially in comparison with the previous model with the stubby and malfunctioning nipple (called the “Mighty Mouse” before Apple lost a trademark dispute).
- 18 programmable mouse buttons with double-click functionality
- Three different button modes: Key, Keypress, and Macro
- Analog Xbox 360-style joystick with optional 4, 8, and 16-key command modes
- Clickable scroll wheel
- 512k of flash memory
- 63 on-mouse application profiles with hardware, software, and autoswitching capability
- 1024-character macro support.
- 18,000 wingdings.
- 50 bazillion dingbats.
- Adjustable resolution from 400 to 1,600 CPI.
- 8,000,000. Nothing specific, just… 8,000,000.
- Support for Comic Sans.
- 20 default profiles for popular games and applications, including Adobe Photoshop, the Gnu Image Manipulation Program, World of Warcraft, and the Call of Duty series.
I’ve decided that rejecting this product out of hand wouldn’t be fair. As much as I’m itchin’ to. And, well, since I’m trying to be more positive these days, I’ll see if I can be more rational in my constructive criticism.
The first thing that needs to be understood about this mouse is that it’s explicitly not for everyone. It was designed by a game designer, largely for game players. Another way to think of it is as the twelve-sided die to your standard six. In the course of designing and developing the product,
it quickly became apparent that many non-gaming applications would also benefit from having dozens of commands accessible directly from the mouse, especially in navigating the bajillion dropdown menus that spawn in office productivity apps like OpenOffice, or rotating 3D shapes in apps like 3D Studio Max.
The settings for the MagicMouse, in contrast, are visual, approachable, and show the user exactly how it works with an embedded video:
And while the MagicMouse can be picked up and grokked nearly instantaneously (though it sucks that right-click is disabled by default), the OpenOfficeMouse requires about two days of acclimation according to the FAQ.
At base, these products represent two polar opposite ends of the spectrum: Apple prefers to hide complexity within the technology whereas the open source approach puts the complexity on the surface of the device in order to expose advanced functionality and greater transparency into how to directly manipulate the device. Put another way, the reason that people would buy the $69 Apple MagicMouse is because they want Apple’s designers to just “figure it out” for them, and provide them with an instantly-usable product. The reason why someone would pay $75 for this mouse is because it strictly keeps all the decision-making about what the mouse does in the hands (pun intended?) of the purchaser.
What I worry about, however, is that pockets of the open source community continue to largely be defined and driven by complexity, exclusivity, technocracy, and machismo. While I do support independence and freedom of choice in technology — and therefore open source — I prefer to do so inclusively, with an understanding that there are many more people who are not yet well served by technology because appropriate technology has not been made more usable for them. The beautiful, usable technology in the marketplace need not be the exclusive domain of the proprietary — but so far I’ve see little indication that open source developers take seriously the need for simpler, easier, and more intuitive future-forward interfaces. Perhaps I’m wrong or just uninformed, but so long as products like the OpenOfficeMouse continue to characterize the norm in open source design, I’m not likely going to be able to soon recommend open source solutions to anyone but the most advanced and privileged users.