Open source design and the OpenOfficeMouse

MagicMouse vs OpenOfficeMouse

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).

To me, the OpenOfficeMouse seems like such a typical product from the open source community. The press release waxes on about the features, implicitly presupposing that more must be better:

  • 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 second thing to consider is that this mouse dispenses with walk-up intuitive design in favor of complicated setup screens and shareable button configurations:

OpenOfficeMouse Setup

The settings for the MagicMouse, in contrast, are visual, approachable, and show the user exactly how it works with an embedded video:

Mouse preferences

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.

MagicMouse Touch Gestures

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.

OpenOfficeMouseWhat 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.

20 thoughts on “Open source design and the OpenOfficeMouse”

  1. “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….”

    First “beautiful” open hardware that came to mind is the Aurora mixer ( via @ryanblock )

    I would also mention the XO laptop program, it has good design.

    But yes, open hardware in general is needlessly geeky and complex, I totally agree. I am hoping the rumored Google phone ( a handset, with Android as its OS, not the ADP1 ) will start to change that.

  2. “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”

    (However, I will say, this would be useful for 3D applications. But I’m betting there are a lot more fitting mice than this).

  3. Inspiring, as always :) Let’s prove that good design can be done with open source.

  4. The open source community definitely needs visual designers, interaction designers and user experience ppl in general. I’d like to see a call to arms in that community to *really* get involved by real hard deliverable contribution.

    “I’m not likely going to be able to soon recommend open source solutions to anyone but the most advanced and privileged users.”

    Seems a little dramatic! For example: Firefox. Great UX. Safari, Chrome — also. VLC. Quicksilver. Point is, open source is everywhere and some of it is really good, some good enough and most certainly a lot of terrible: just like proprietary software!

  5. Wow, okay, I really thought this was a joke!

    So, when I read something like with OOM you can assign a function that is nested four menus deep to a single button click, what I’m hearing is that it is trying to solve a software problem with hardware.

    The fact that this mouse is absurd for most people is not the core issue, because it is intended for some people. And, I think “opensourceness” is irrelevant. The issue is that, given the software problem, this is the best hardware solution a group of people came up with. I think OOM is a good example that points out the problems in software design (usability, accessibility, aesthetics..)

    If we agree on that, why would any mouse be particularly better than another? Because one makes the problem visible and the other invisible? Or one is sexier than the other? The user still has to jump through hoops at some point to accomplish their task.

    That is why I think the problem should actually be solved at the software level.

  6. He, interesting product… a mouse with 18 buttons, eh. Can’t we have just a few more? like 21? or is an odd number difficult to handle?

    Seriously, you should get yourself checked out. It might not be april 1st but this can’t be anything but a joke. Just have a look at the ‘photo’ from ‘the third prototype’ – it’s not even a very convincing 3D rendering…

  7. You’re just stupid if You don’t understand a joke…

  8. It’s a logical fallacy to claim that this mouse is representative of open source software. Most open source software has a large number of configurable options, like this mouse. However, most open source software comes with sane default settings; you don’t have to fiddle with the options to have working software. This mouse, however, actually REQUIRES complex setup.

    It would be more reasonable to compare open source software to all computer mice. You only need to configure this ridiculous OOo mouse if you actually choose to use it. If you don’t want to configure it, there are plenty of simpler, configuration-free mice available (and your computer surely came with a simple one). However, it’s good to have a complex mouse like this available for hard-core gamers, 3D designers, and other people who might actually CHOOSE to use it.

    The mere availability of options is not a burden on the user.

  9. As others have said, I think the open source angle is a bad one. is not primarily an open source office suite, it’s a Microsoft Office clone which was around for years before it was open sourced, so assuming its design philosophy reflects anything about the innate nature of open source is a bit dicey.

    The Abiword Mouse would not look the same, to give the obvious comparison. Nor would the Microsoft Office Mouse look much like the Mighty Mouse, and that’s another proprietary software company.

  10. Why you call this OOMouse as ‘open hardware’? It doesn’t contain any open parts, it only has logo. Even their own press release (Nov 6, 2009) said it is covered by patents.

  11. Hmm, remember the early 90’s when it was not uncommon to have 24 or more function keys?

    I wounder if this is just a 2D version of touch.

    Most people use a five button mouse but think of it as a two button mouse. (two buttons, plus a scroll wheel, with button three being down, button four being scroll up, and button five being scroll down.)

    If this really is a good idea, then I am sure that someone will clean up the interface at some point.

  12. I don’t understand how you make the jump to assume this is an ‘open source’ mouse, because it has the OO.o logo on it?

  13. What occurs to me is this:

    1. People who just want to make something that solves their problem will do whatever they have to, regardless of user design experience. Without experienced designer help, they make anything. Being able to do that is a core value of free and open source software, it’s an easy place to solve your problem. It’s also easy to create a terrible user experience (UX). With the right mix of people, it’s possible to create a wonderful UX.

    2. Someone comes along and decides to pay a team of people to design a product that “just works”. They make a conscious choice to not do that work in an open, collaborative way, and a choice not to license that work with a free and open license.

    There is nothing wrong with the open source design process simply because the proper mix of experts hasn’t arisen or been paid to solve this particular problem area you are looking at.

    Plenty of open source solutions are more elegant than the Magic Mouse, from the proper perspective and in the proper context.

    If I had a market of Linux users big enough to buy it, I can easily see the reasoning for hiring a team to make something just as innovative as both of these mice, with all the UX sense required, and under an entirely FOSS license chain (from hardware to software.) As mentioned, the OLPC XO is a good example of this.

    It’s not really a fault of the open source design process, so let’s not lay any blame there. I’m not really sure there is any blame to lay. It is simply that no one has made the business decision to fund a team, and no experts (or near experts) have sought to form a community to solve this particular niche (or other related ones where FOSS UX/UI sucks.) It is to the credit of the open source design process that an 18 button mouse useful to a small niche can arise, presuming that it actually is FOSS licensed.

    As an example folks have decided to pay people to make stuff just work yet be open source, the base Android UI, the base Chrome OS UI, and the base MeeGo UI are all nice UX. Even where all the bits are not (yet) open source, that is the clear trend. Getting those paid-for design teams to work more openly with external input, in all such cases, is something to be encouraged. Then we’ll have even more open source design success to point to.

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