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What Exactly Is A Trackball Mouse?
Everyone knows what a mouse is. It’s a small furry creature that runs around on wheels and is eaten by snakes. Or, in computer terms, it’s a small device that allows you to move a cursor on the computer screen. Some plug in to the computer itself, some are wireless, but they all share similar aspects. They’re about the size of your palm, designed so you can easily grip them, and they come with two buttons and a scroll wheel.
If you’re a casual computer user, you may not be aware that there’s a type of mouse called “trackball” mouse. Most computer mice work by running a wheel, or a laser pointer, on a desk or flat surface. You move your hand so that the device moves, and the cursor moves where you move it. A trackball mouse, by contrast, puts the cursor moving wheel at your fingertips. So instead of moving the mouse in order to move the cursor on screen, you simply move the wheel, or the ball, itself.
There are a few benefits to using a trackball mouse over the other style of mouse. Specifically, the cursor is not limited by the area of your workspace. Occasionally, with the regular style of mouse, you have to pick it up and move it back to a comfortable position. This can be a problem if you’re trying to move the cursor around quickly. Thus, people who need that extra freedom tend to go with a trackball mouse.
However, if you don’t need that quick freedom, you’re probably fine in using a regular style of mouse. They do tend to be cheaper, after all. Either way, though, you should use the mouse that’s comfortable for you and that allows you to do the work you need to do with ease.
A Micro-History of the Trackball Mouse
Trackballs seem like an inherent part of the computer mouse, and one that has always been around. The trackball actually dates back to World War II, so to think that it has been around forever may be wrong, but it certainly has been in existence since before the dawn of the personal home computer.
During the era of radar research and development, Ralph Benjamin created the first trackball while working for Britain’s Royal Navy Scientific Service. By 1966, Orbit Instrument Corporation took his invention a step further to help flight radar systems. The company created what was called an X Y-ball tracker and installed it into flight control panels.
By the time the personal computer and video game consoles arrived on the scene, Atari had already created a trackball for a game called Football. Named the trak-ball, it was actually inspired by a Japanese electronic toy-maker’s Taito game ball. It then became widely used for Atari’s Missile Command, Centipede and other arcade games.
While more and more trackballs began operating with the help of an LED light that would be alternately covered and exposed to guide the mouse, it was not until the late 1990’s that this began to be replaced by direct-optical tracking. The early 1990’s saw the rise of trackpads on laptops, but these were pushed back into a corner while the optical mouse technology took over. This is where the optical tracking component follows dots on the track ball itself.
Trackballs came back into some use in the early oughts to help in eSport technology. However, because of the convenience, speed and accuracy with which optical mice work, they never regained their former hold on the computer mouse market.
Trackballs have not died, however. These devices are still implemented in flight control and auto CAD workstations.
How to Clean a Trackball Mouse
If you have a mouse with a trackball in it, you have likely encountered erratic cursor movement or an inability to roll the unit properly at some point. Rather than tossing the mouse and buying a new one, you can clean your current one.
Begin by removing the bottom plate that is holding the ball in place. You should see which direction to twist the plate in on the plate itself. Then, gently remove the ball. Inspect inside the mouse to see if any of the springs have an accumulation of lint or dust that are keeping them from functioning properly. If so, gently remove it.
You should have your supplies available for the task before you begin, including a pair of tweezers to grab any little visible pieces. You may also be able to use the end of a paperclip if you do not have tweezers available.
Once you have removed all of the chunks of lint or other debris, soak the tip of a cotton swab in alcohol for a few seconds and use it to remove the dirt that is stuck to the unit, both inside of the area that holds the ball, and the ball itself.
At this point, you can either reassemble the unit or take the additional step of removing the next layer and exposing the inside of the mouse. Clean the area as you did the the previous one, and then use a cotton swab with WD-40 on it to lubricate the hinges and moving parts.
Once you have put the mouse back together, it should work much better than before. If the ball is still sticking, you may use a scouring pad to roughen the surface and provide better traction when you use your trackball computer mouse.