Whatever happened to …

… trackballs?

From the Whatever happened to Padlet, comes this suggestion.



Photo Credit: Iwan Gabovitch Flickr via Compfight cc

Or, a nice collection of images appears here.

This is so timely.  I was in a Staples store just this past week to get a floor mat for my computer chair; the old one had become brittle and falling to pieces.

To annoy my wife, I always take a spin through the computer and device sections to see what I would buy if I had more money.  Of course, there are the computers and I always like to try out the keyboard to see what the latest feel is.  I still think that the IBM keyboard with the metal base and the wonderfully designed keys is still the best.  After I passed the computers, I hit the peripherals and looked at the myriad of mouses and other pointing devices that are available.  There was a nice collection of mouses that include a trackball.

Ontario educators long in the teeth will remember the Icon computer.  That was my first experience with any pointing device.  When you’re using punched cards, that technology doesn’t even enter the picture.  The Icon had a trackball at the top of the keyboard with a pair of “Action” keys to complete the package.  So, you’d use your finger or palm to move the pointer over the screen and tap “Action” to make the magic happen.  The similarity to a hand cleaner at the bowling alley wasn’t lost on my students and it was nothing to hear the “wheeeeeee” as the trackball got a good spin.  They were durable things.  Every student studied the keyboard to see how to remove the ball but I don’t recall any student who ever managed to do it.  Now, mouse balls are a different thing…

This technology design was enhanced by manufacturers and it wasn’t long before you’d see them in gaming devices or devices design to address issues of ergonomics or drawing that require fine detail.  My secretary got one to help her with wrist issues and it soon became the “thing” to have although I don’t recall that anyone really mastered it.

For me, it was about the time that I switched to a laptop because I was out and about visiting schools and needed something portable.  I never got one but I did admire my secretary who really used it well.

These days, my sit down workstation is a mishmash of a laptop with external Logitech keyboard, Logitech mouse, and Wacom tablet.  The mouse with a laser to read movement addresses my pointing needs for the most part.  But, walking through Staples, I did pause for a second or two to wonder if I’ve missed something in the complete computing experience by never having owned a mouse with at trackball.

For a Sunday, I’d like to hear your thoughts…

  • Are you experienced enough to remember the Icon computer and its trackball?
  • Have you ever used a mouse that has a trackball build into it?
  • What is your main pointing device?  Name brands are OK.
  • Has your finger become your ultimate pointing device with a tablet, phone, or touch screen?
  • With voice assistants maturing, will we eventually not need anything in this genre at some point?
  • And, if you know, just how does that trackball stay inside the device?

Please, please share your thoughts via comment below.  I’m really curious.

If you like this post, please share with your friends and let’s get a feel for how everyone is pointing.

The entire series of these Sunday “Whatever happened to” posts is available here.

And, please, if you have an idea and would like me to share my thoughts about anything, add it to the Padlet.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: http://www.dougpeterson.ca Follow me on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dougpete I'm bookmarking things at: http://www.diigo.com/user/dougpete

4 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …”

  1. My mouse at school has a track ball. Ever since I developed golfers elbow I’ve used it. It has the added benefit of no one else knowing what to do with it…so they don’t want to use my computer. At home it’s either a touch screen or a touch pad instead of a mouse.
    On another note… “To annoy my wife…” how many sentences a day to you start with that statement? Could be a whole blog topic right there!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Actually, very few, I think. We both have these little traits about shopping. When we go to a material store, I don’t understand why we can’t just go in, find and buy what we want and then get out of there. On the other side of the coin, she doesn’t understand why when we go to a computer story, we just don’t get what we want and then get out of there. In the case of materials, she has this need to touch every bolt (I hope that’s the right word) and in the case of technology, I am the same. Fortunately, we recognize these traits in each other and try our best to deal with it. Ooooh, a squirrel. Look at all those mouses! I confess I’m a weak person and easily distracted.


  3. I used to love trackballs. One advantage they had over mice was that they were useful in small spaces. I spent some time writing in the car while my wife was teaching a class (long story) and the trackball worked fine in the car while there was no real place to use a mouse. It was easier to use in airplanes as well. Eventually my laptops had touch pads and not having to carry a second device won for the touch pad.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember how much your secretary liked using the track ball and she extolled its ergonomic virtues. I tried one for a few weeks but never stuck with it long enough to get the hang of it. I’d find myself using my regular mouse instead just to get my work done faster. One of the other program consultants said she really wanted a track ball so I gave it to her and she used it all the time.


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