Posted on Dysfunctional Programming 2020-11-01
Ever since I tried a trackball I haven’t ever gone back to a mouse.
I changed because I was starting to suffer from RSI and the trackball
cured it right away. I’ve only ever bought one, the
Logitech Trackman Marble
T-BC21 which I’m still using. It’s a workhorse: cheap, simple and
some variant of it has been around for nearly 20 years. When it breaks
I’ll just get a new one. There’s just one small issue with it, which means
it doesn’t quite just work out of the box…
The trackball has four buttons, two either side. There are the two left and right click larger buttons and two smaller inner buttons. The small button’s default actions are to go backward and forward, in browser or file manager history for example. This is actually quite handy but aside from the track ball itself, that’s it, there is no way to actually scroll up and down without clicking and dragging on the scrollbar itself. After decades of being used to a scroll wheel (or two finger scroll on a trackpad), this is extremely frustrating; but there are solutions.
Funnily enough despite tradition, this is where Linux and even the BSDs
(due to X11 or Wayland) actually outperform Windows or macOS on usability.
The Arch Linux wiki has the most
on the web for Linux, but essentially if you’re using X11 it’s a matter of
evdev and if on Wayland configuring
a specific option. The Arch wiki covers X11, and GNOME, Plasma and
Sway on Wayland. On FreeBSD the procedure is likely the same, as coverage
is similar. On OpenBSD there are less choices, but it can still be configured
Windows is of course an officially supported platform, so there is software available from Logitech, but all the scrolling options that are available don’t fully replicate the scroll wheel experience and further add to the frustration.
The best solution I found is an open source application called MarbleScroll. It isn’t configurable and just puts an icon in the systray, but it just works. You can just place the .exe anywhere, create a shortcut and put it in startup applications. It will auto-start on login. The whole experience is pretty seamless.
Again, this is an officially supported platform which Logitech provide software for. The only real solution I found was to use a commercial application called SmartScroll, which also offers a lot of other options suitable for all sorts of pointing devices. Even though I ideally would have liked something simpler and open source, it is actually really easy and seamless, so I recommend just purchasing a license.