Add New Gestures to Magic Mouse with Two Free Utilities
Apple released the multitouch capable Magic Mouse back in October, but as we wrote at the time, the software that ships with the mouse barely taps its hardware's potential. It was only a matter of time before OS X software developers picked up the slack and released tools to expand on Apple's limited preferences. Here are our first impressions of two such free utilities: MagicPrefs and BetterTouchTool.
The multitouch shell of the Magic Mouse is as sensitive and responsive as the iPhone's screen; it's capable of sensing five or more fingers (if you can fit them on the surface) and distinguishing between light and heavy touches. Unfortunately, the only multitouch gestures Apple's software recognizes are two finger swipes left or right. Both MagicPrefs and BetterTouchTool greatly expand the range of recognizable gestures, and each of them has its unique benefits. MagicPrefs, with its polished and simple preference pane, will likely appeal to beginner and novice users. BetterTouchTool, with its multitude of fine-tunable options, will appeal to more advanced users.
Developed by software engineer Vlad Alexa, MagicPrefs is free and will remain so, according to Alexa's FAQ for the tool. Also, while MagicPrefs' source code has not yet been released, Alexa writes on his site that he is a "believer in open source."
MagicPrefs' menu bar item
MagicPrefs has a small footprint on system resources, reading device input from Apple's own driver. The application runs at system start by default and lives in the menu bar. It provides users with a standard OS X preference pane to manage all of the utility's settings. From this familiar screen, users can enable up to four finger gestures such as clicking, swiping and pinching. Users can also tap the location just above the Apple logo on the Magic Mouse for an additional action.
The preference pane is attractive and easy to follow (two major Apple design philosophies Mac users will undoubtedly appreciate). MagicPrefs eschews listing the many variables used to calculate gestures in favor of a single "touch sensitivity" control slider. Pull-down lists for gesture actions include icons and keep more advanced features tucked away in a submenu at the bottom where they won't bother users who don't care about them.
MagicPrefs is quite stable and reliable, and will likely be versatile and powerful enough for most users' needs.
Developed by Andreas Hegenberg (and based in part on code from Will Henderson's multitouch trackpad utility, MultiClutch), BetterTouchTool was first released back in November, just a couple weeks after the Magic Mouse was available for sale. Since the end of December, Hegenberg has been on a role, updating alpha versions of the utility with new features and bug fixes at least once daily. And the user community has been responsive, providing bug reports and other information in the comments thread for each version's posting. The utility is free, though not open source, but there has been some pressure from the user community to release the source code.
BetterTouchTool provides all the functionality of MagicPrefs and then some. The biggest difference in features between the two utilities is BetterTouchTool's inclusion of multitouch trackpad gestures support. These extra options are useful, but some (like inverse scrolling) are currently bound to both the mouse and trackpad gestures, meaning if the user changes the setting for the mouse, it also changes for the trackpad.
BetterTouchTool's menu bar item
Like MagicPrefs, BetterTouchTool is small and unobtrusive. It lives in the menu bar, but doesn't presume to start up automatically with OS X. Users will need to set this manually in the preferences, which, also like MagicPrefs, is the element of the utility most visible to users. Unlike MagicPrefs, though, the BetterTouchTool preferences are located within the application itself as opposed to in a standard preference pane, and are initially only accessible through the utility's menu item. This can be a bit worrisome if the user disables the menu icon without first installing the preference pane shortcut. (Though while BetterTouchTool is running, users can always hit control + option + command + o to get to the preferences.)
Multitouch live view shows users exactly what their multitouch surface senses
Whereas MagicPrefs opts to present users with a simplified UI and abstractions of the Magic Mouse's input, BetterTouchTool gives users a raw look at the Magic Mouse's multitouch surface with corresponding control over many aspects of the sensors. Users can expand or contract the area of the Magic Mouse used to input swipes, clicks and taps, set the width and centeredness of the "middle click column," and change the timing for taps. BetterTouchTool can even attempt to interpret whether users mean to left or right click when they have both fingers on the mouse (typically users must lift their left fingers completely off the mouse for a right click to register).
BetterTouchTool's list of actions is exhaustive. (And yes, that's Batman with Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterston.)
The list of gestures currently supported is already larger than MagicPrefs', and includes support for modifier keys like command and function, allowing for even more permutations. BetterTouchTool also adds a brand new gesture called "tip-tap," which is best understood by watching the video demonstration (Hegenberg also made video demonstrations of all the other gestures). Likewise, the list of actions is longer, giving users access to system functions like volume and screen brightness, and even includes a script to search Google for any currently selected text.
All BetterTouchTool's features and flexibility come with a major caveat: This is currently alpha software. Hegenberg makes sure to include a "use at your own risk" warning clearly next to every version posted. Users can expect the application itself to crash occasionally, conflicts with other applications or system settings, and resultant irregular behavior. In testing, BetterTouchTool unexpectedly altered the system's Expose and Spaces mouse key bindings, played poorly with the dock, temporarily locked up Finder and eventually required a system restart when nothing else would cease the unwanted behavior.
For users who simply want to extend their Magic Mouse's rather limited set of out-of-the-box features, MagicPrefs should be sufficient. Its easy to use preference pane and quite reliable performance make it a solid choice. Those who want more flexibility and power should give BetterTouchTool a try and determine if the utility's additional features offset its inevitable alpha stage bugs.
Whichever utility the user chooses, it is important to not run both simultaneously; I've never seen a mouse explode so spectacularly before in my life.