The iMac’s Mouse Acceleration Curve Sucks

I love my iMac.  I’ve written about that in the past.  I still love my iMac.  However, something just didn’t feel right about the mouse.  At first I thought it was just getting used to a new computer so I gave it some time.  (Of course I use Linux and didn’t have the problem.) Then I thought it might just be the wireless Mighty Mouse’s weight or drag across the desk.  So I put the mouse pad back which didn’t make a difference.  I also removed one of the batteries to make it lighter.  None of this helped.  Then I thought it might just be the Apple Mighty Mouse itself.  I replaced it with another mouse I had at home, then with another.  No luck.  My arm and my wrist began to hurt.  I felt like I had a depth perception problem or I was just crazy.

After about two months I finally just looked on Google.  I searched on something vague, like the mouse didn’t feel right or something like that.  Lo and behold the answer to my question was there; it was the mouse acceleration curve.

Turns out, somewhere along the line between Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X 10.5 Apple decided to quietly change the acceleration curve on the Mac.  The result is an acceleration cliff; the mouse moves quickly and then, right before the target it slows down…to a crawl.  Normally the mouse would slow down incrementally, gradually, allowing the person to place the pointer directly on the target.  Once the mouse slows down it creeps across the screen.  This was causing me to overcompensate and making my arm ache after a while.

I’m not the only one who has problems with this.  Traci, on the other hand, can’t seem to notice a difference and has no problem at all.  Some Mac heads will defend this behavior because of an undying allegiance with the almighty Apple.  That’s bullshit.  Linux does not suffer from this problem; the acceleration curve provided by X is just right like *gasp* Microsoft Windows.  Turns out Microsoft got this right.  They’ve done a lot of work on pointer ballistics and have put a lot of thought into the mouse on their systems.  I’m not part of the Apple cult; I love my Mac and I’m fond of Apple but they screwed this one up.  They don’t even offer a way to modify the curve, just the cursor speed.  Those are not the same thing.

Fortunately after some searching I found some solutions.  Some have coded fixes for this and sell the software for around $20 to $30.  I don’t particularly like the idea of paying to fix something that shouldn’t be broken in the first place so I found another way.  I have several Logitech mice sitting around the house.  I have one that is a three-button, scroll wheel mouse that’s relatively new.  It was the mouse I used on my old system before the Mac. I downloaded and installed the Logitech Control Center for the Mac and hooked up the Logitech three-button mouse to my Mac.  I set the acceleration curve to 1 and then assigned the left and right buttons, along with the scroll wheel and the scroll wheel button to their Mighty Mouse counterparts.  This mouse has a third button.  On my Mighty Mouse I had the two side-squeeze buttons set to run Expose.  I was able to map my third button on the mouse to Expose, completely replacing the functionality of the Mighty Mouse with the Logitech mouse.  Now the acceleration curve is fixed and my Mac feels like a real computer again.

I’ve read that you can also buy a Microsoft Intellimouse and install the accompanying drivers.  This apparently fixes the problem too.  As I said there are third-party solutions like Steer Mouse as well.

So I didn’t find a free solution but I was able to utilize an existing investment without having to spend any additional cash.  It’s frustrating that this even had to happen.  Apparently the acceleration curve has a different effect on the mouse pointers of the Mac Books.  It seems to be the iMac that suffers primarily from this.  I could live with that if Apple would provide a way to adjust the curve.  I can only hope that it’ll make it into the next release.  Of course it took them forever to wake up and realize that the right click button on the mouse was important and they finally included it, however begrudgingly.  Sometimes they can be hard-headed.

I hope this might help someone who is having this same problem.  If you’ve already got a Logitech mouse lying around the Control Center software is a free download.  You might also have an Intellimouse with which you could do the same thing.  Both of those mice are pretty cheap so if you do have to buy one it won’t break the bank.

[Update 8/2014: This problem appears to have gone away with my new iMac (running OSX Mavericks and using Apple’s wireless magic mouse). Not sure if Apple finally fixed the curve problem or if the magic mouse just works better with the OS than a competitor’s mouse. So for now, my problems are solved. But I’ll leave the article here for those who might still benefit.]

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6 thoughts on “The iMac’s Mouse Acceleration Curve Sucks

  1. Eugene 10/21/2008 / 4:10 am

    Nice article. Thanks. 🙂 Eugene

  2. Scott 10/21/2008 / 9:07 am

    I just had this exact convo with a bud about the mouse feeling weird… I noticed myself trying to pick it up and move, as if something got stuck(as the old ball mice were prone), or the laser wasn’t registering on that part of the desk… frustrated the heck outta me… I thought it was because I was at school on Macs and I don’t own one… I thought it was just a bad mouse the kids may have screwed with… etc… I never would have thought that Apple screwed that one up…

    Thanks for the tips!

  3. Dave 11/16/2008 / 11:22 pm

    After spending many hours over the years trying to solve the mac acceleration curve problem with various software solutions, and many more hours in lost productivity due to the horrible mouse acceleration curves, I finally found a solution that worked.

    If you run your keyboard and mouse on a Windows or Linux PC and use Synergy to control the mouse and keyboard on the Mac, you get proper mouse control.

    Thanks to this major annoyance and many many other more moderate and minor annoyances, Apples has put me firmly in the “I hate Mac” column.

    Their arrogance in imposing this change is only matched by their stupidity for not fixing it in the past 3+ years that I know that this problem existed.

    And that stupid single menu bar. That’s a joke. As soon as any Mac guy brings up Fitts’ Law to defend the monolithic menu bar they have instantly lost the argument. “B-b-b-b-b-u-t it’s like having an infinitely large menu bar.” Um, no it’s not.

  4. Brian 11/17/2008 / 1:05 am

    Thanks for the tip about Synergy. I actually fixed the issue by installing the Logitech Control Center and using the Logitech mouse I used with my Windows box. If I leave the acceleration curve set to “1” then I get the same response I get on Windows or Linux. My biggest issue is that Apple does not allow me to change it within OSX. That’s bullshit.

    Actually I love the single menu bar. I like the consistency it provides and I like knowing that it’s there in the same place no matter what app I’m using. Just my preference.

    The Mac has a few annoyances but I haven’t used an OS yet that’s been “perfect”. After using Vista the Mac is a breath of fresh air. I chalk the acceleration curve up to an annoyance that I’ve now eliminated. I still very much enjoy using my Mac. I really should work on fixing my next annoyance on the Mac; the “End” and “Home” key mappings.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  5. b Berg 01/21/2009 / 7:20 am

    you may not believe me, but i got used to it. took two weeks though.

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