The MacBook problem: it's the mouse, stupid

The MacBook problem: it's the mouse, stupid

Molly Wood Former Executive Editor
Molly Wood was an executive editor at CNET, author of the Molly Rants blog, and host of the tech show, Always On. When she's not enraging fanboys of all stripes, she can be found offering tech opinions on CBS and elsewhere, and offering opinions on everything else to anyone who will listen.
Molly Wood
3 min read
As we've discussed, Apple today transformed its aging iBook line into a spanking-new MacBook line. And the new MacBooks, which are a baby step below the MacBook Pro line, are actually pretty sweet. They're 13-inch laptops, just a touch bigger than the pocketbook-size 12-inch PowerBook, with Intel Core Duo processors running between 1.83GHz and 2.0GHz, with 60GB and 80GB hard drives. They're smaller than the iBooks (5.2 pounds and less than an inch thick); they're decently tricked out, connection-wise; and they come with built in iSight video cameras--and hey, they're reasonably priced, ranging from just $1,099 to $1,499. One model even comes in nice, shiny, Nano black. And of course, since the MacBooks have Intel inside, they'll run Windows under Boot Camp, no problem.

But I still can't buy one.

I can hear you asking it now. "But why?" (Except more rudely.) And I admit--Apple has removed almost every single barrier there is to switching to a Mac laptop. It looks good, it's decently fast, it's inexpensive, and if I wanted to, I could run nothing but Windows all the livelong day. What's the problem here?

Call me unreasonable if you will, but the problem is as tiny as a mouse. Neither the MacBook nor the MacBook Pro comes with--even as an option--a second mouse button. At this point, when Apple itself has made a weak nod toward those who want to right-click by releasing the Mighty Mouse, the lack of a second mouse button on these laptops is patently ridiculous. Here's just a short list of contextual menus that have been available in the Mac OS since version 8.5. They include spell-checking and correction in Microsoft Word, changing desktop options, making aliases, getting information, deleting, opening, and so on. In OS X, Apple built most of the powerful customization features of the Dock into contextual menus. Contextual menus are everywhere in OS X, and most Mac users--an astonishing number of whom don't even know about control-click, considering that it's Tip No. 1 in most books on using a Mac--are using painstaking, click-intensive techniques to accomplish the most basic of tasks.

Now, throw the Windows compatibility into the mix, and the lack of a second mouse button becomes a complete travesty. I know that Apple has no interest in formally supporting the use of Windows, and that its decision to let you dual-boot into Windows has nothing to do with encouraging you to use Windows full-time on a new Mac. But it's absolutely an attempt to create a more welcoming environment for would-be switchers, and what would do that better than that old standby, a two-button mouse?

When you add in the fact that Mac users themselves have been begging for a two-button mouse, deriding previous accessories like the "hockey puck" and buying either multibutton add-ons or simply new mice altogether for more than a decade, this continued stubbornness on the mouse issue looks less like an aesthetic or interface choice and more like a simple battle of wills. And at this point, it's time to give in. People like multibutton mice. That's just how it is. Control-clicking is awkward and unnecessary. Contextual menus are handy and powerful, they're the standard in third-party applications and Apple's own operating system, and, frankly, they can help prevent RSI-inducing multiple-menu mousing and clicking. Gamers flat out need more than one button. And I, personally, won't switch until I get one. Apple, I'm serious: it's time to build a better mouse.