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What is a Trackball?

By Julie Crotty
Updated May 16, 2024
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A trackball is a specific style of computer mouse that allows the user to keep his hand and arm in one place, while manipulating a ball that moves the on-screen pointer. The computer mouse is a critical element to any home or office PC set up. The mouse provides the user a way to move the pointer on the computer screen to the desired location, as well as the means to select an object. Used in all applications from office software to gaming and web surfing, mouse comfort and ease of use is paramount.

The traditional computer mouse is a “point and click” tool, where the user physically moves the mouse across a mouse pad, desktop, or other surface with either left or right hand until the pointer (or cursor) is at the correct position on the screen. Once there, the user clicks either the right or the left button to select the location and place the cursor. This type of navigation requires arm and wrist movement, and the location of the mouse assembly is variable.

The trackball mouse performs the same functions as the original style mouse, but instead of moving the entire mouse to position the cursor, a small, solid ball is located left of center or directly on the top of the mouse, which is used to navigate the cursor across the screen. Using this style of mouse allows the PC user to roll the ball with the thumb (or fingers or palm) and move the cursor to the desired location without moving the complete assembly. This reduces the arm and wrist movement previously required to maneuver the original style mouse and prevents the user from having to reposition the mouse frequently.

In addition to the diminished need for arm movement while manipulating the mouse, the thumb controlled trackball offers greater accuracy in placing the cursor at the anticipated location. Unlike some conventional desktop computer mouse tools, it navigates smoothly and does not “jump” or stick on the mouse pad or desktop surface. Excellent for using when arm movement is constrained, the trackball does not need a mouse pad or smooth surface underneath it to operate efficiently, as it doesn’t depend on contact with anything other than the user moving the ball itself.

Though not proven to prevent computer-related injuries, such as repetitive stress injuries, users with physical constraints may find this style of mouse a better choice than the conventional point and click tool. Prior to choosing a computer mouse, users should consider what applications are used most frequently, duration of use, space constraints and physical limitations. To compare conventional and trackball versions makes and models, a user should consult his local computer store or research online.

EasyTechJunkie is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon322664 — On Feb 28, 2013

I love the cordless trackball mouse.

By healthy4life — On Jan 25, 2013

My sister says her boss uses a left handed trackball mouse. She says that it is confusing for her when she has to check the boss's email while she's out for the day. Her brain is used to the right handed mouse.

By wavy58 — On Jan 24, 2013

I've had problems with trackball mice in the past. My dad bought one when they first became available, and to me, the ball was too heavy and hard to maneuver.

Perhaps they've become easier to use over the years. I won't buy one until I've had a chance to try it out, though.

By DylanB — On Jan 24, 2013

@Kristee – Yes, it is. I use a wireless trackball mouse, and I like it much more than the old mouse I was using.

I love not having a cord to get tangled up in papers on my desk. The trackball makes moving the cursor around so much easier, too.

I used to get cramps in my hands and fingers from moving the mouse around the screen all day. Now, I can use any of my fingers to slide the ball around, and I don't have to grip and drag anything. I simply click when the cursor reaches the right spot.

By Kristee — On Jan 23, 2013

This may be what I saw on my coworker's desk. It had a big red ball on top, and it didn't have a cord. Is it possible to find a cordless trackball mouse?

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