There are lots of tips and tricks that can make our life and work easier. I love them because thanks to simple things I can save lots of time and effort every day. Therefore, I am going to share a few things that work for me. I can be the only person in the universe for whom those things work, nevertheless maybe they will (or already are) work for you!
Tip #1 – replace your mouse with a trackball!
I have used a mouse for decades. Of course, from time to time I changed them as the technology evolved. A ball-based to an optical, then to laser and wireless. The comfort of usage was higher over time as those pointers got better and better. Nevertheless, the general idea of the hand movement remained the same. As I spent pretty long hours in front of my laptop, I was always feeling this unpleasant tension in my hand after using a mouse for the whole day. I have never developed any bigger issue, still, I decided it is high time to do something about it.
I have read about different possibilities, like using a vertical mouse, a trackball, or trying to just skip using a mouse at all. Despite I am a big fan of keyboard usage and key shortcuts, switching between many browser tabs and open windows is a job for a mouse, at least in my opinion. As I love geeky things, I decided to go for trackball. After a few days of working with a trackball, I understood that it was a big mistake to ignore that device for such a long period – and not even because I got rid of the pain in my hand!
What trackball to choose?
Some trackballs can be operated by a thumb or pointing/middle fingers. They have both their pros and cons but eventually, I decided just to use a thumb trackball.
Without much thinking, I bought a Logitech M750 – a pretty old model but already battle-tested. This was a good choice as I fell in love with that trackball immediately. Its worn buttons can be also easily fixed by using i.e. Omron D2FC-F-7N microswitches. Cool!
One sad thing about those trackballs is that they are more expensive than regular mice, but this is understandable considering economic laws (like the scale of production, popularity, etc.).
In recent days, a successor of M750 came out – M757 that looks like a better option considering a similar price. Of course, there are also other, more expensive trackballs available. I suppose it is a good idea to buy the cheaper one for the first time to understand whether it is going to fit us at all.
Frankly speaking, I do not have a long story to tell, as – to my surprise – I got used to working with a trackball in about a day. Still, I can remember a few things:)
Day 1. Trackball unpacked and ready for work! I worked about 7hrs with a trackball on the first day. My feelings that day:
- Initially, I felt using a mouse a little more comfortable. Operating by a wheel was not as accurate as using a mouse. I had also to increase the pointer speed to decrease the ball movement.
- I felt my thumb muscles a little exhausted after this first day. Still, less overall pain in my hand.
- After all, the experience was pretty good. I thought it would be more difficult to get used to the trackball. By the end of the day, I almost forgot I was using a different device.
Day 2. I forgot I was using a trackball!
- By the end of that day, the experience of using a mouse and trackball melted together. I could easily switch between a trackball and a regular mouse on another machine.
- The accuracy and overall performance improved, almost reaching the level of a regular mouse.
- My thumb muscles were not as exhausted as on the first day.
Day 3. Improved speed and similar accuracy compared to a mouse.
- By the end of the 3rd day, I understood I could do things quicker with a trackball! Moving across the screen is faster with a trackball. If someone owns more than one screen, the difference can be even more significant.
- The accuracy improved further.
- My thumb muscles got strong enough to work with a trackball without any exhaustion.
- The pain in my hand has gone completely!
- I was sure enough to say I was never going back to a mouse for a day-to-day job. I am ok with a regular mouse for computer games, but not for work and programming-related tasks.
Summary after a few weeks
Overall, thanks to a trackball, my work performance has increased – I can navigate quickly and with less effort. Still, I have slightly lower accuracy than by using a mouse, but the difference is hardly noticeable. I can sacrifice that for the speed and comfort of a trackball. I can use a trackball anywhere – this is a big plus too. I do not feel hand exhaustion after a day of work at all. It is a pity I have not tried trackballs earlier. I understand that not everybody may like them, but I am sure every programmer should give them a try. Most likely it will pay off significantly!
Tips for Ubuntu
Unfortunately, Logitech does not provide any software that could configure the trackball on Linux. It is pretty sad but business is business and it looks like even such a big manufacturers do not like to spend money just to satisfy a small percent of their userbase. Anyway, the trackball can be configured even on Linux and one of my favourite tip is to enhance the scrolling ability. Why not use the ball to scroll horizontally and vertically instead of the wheel?
- Install solaar:
sudo apt install solaar
According to the website (not available at the moment):
Solaar is a Linux device manager for Logitech’s Unifying Receiver peripherals. It is able to pair/unpair devices to the receiver, and for most devices read battery status.
It comes in two flavors, command-line and GUI. Both are able to list the devices paired to a Unifying Receiver, show detailed info for each device, and also pair/unpair supported devices with the receiver.
- Let’s create a config file:
sudo vim /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/99-M570Logitech.conf
- Paste below and restart your computer:
Section "InputClass" Identifier "Logitech M570" MatchProduct "Logitech M570" Driver "libinput" Option "ScrollMethod" "button" Option "ScrollButton" "3" Option "MiddleEmulation" "on" EndSection
It should be possible to scroll by using the ball while pressing the right button. Extremely convenient!
You can change the right button to others by modifying the
Option "ScrollButton" "3" line. To find out the numbers for the other buttons, use this command:
xev | grep button
Other trackballs are also supported. To find out the Identifier/MatchProduct, execute below:
cat /var/log/Xorg.0.log | grep Logitech
For example, for the successor of this trackball – M575, the configuration will look as follows:
- Create a config file:
sudo vim /usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/99-M575Logitech.conf
- Paste below and restart your machine:
Section "InputClass" Identifier "Logitech ERGO M575" MatchProduct "Logitech ERGO M575" Driver "libinput" Option "ScrollMethod" "button" Option "ScrollButton" "3" Option "MiddleEmulation" "on" EndSection
Further reading about the topic can be found in this great post: Logitech M570 Trackball Ubuntu Setup.