Mouse Acceleration and Me (25th January 2008)

Mouse acceleration in Windows XP is turned on by default, as is the case in Mac and other modern operating systems. It separates the speed of the pointer on the screen from the speed of the mouse in your hand:

This lets you do pixel-precise work in a graphics program whilst still letting you whizz around the text in a word processor. More commonly, it lets you reach the menu bar quickly with a flick of your wrist, then lets you pick the correct item with slower movements.

In theory, anyway. In practice, it can feel weird and uncomfortable. Mouse acceleration adds a layer of abstraction between the direct way you move your hand and the indirect resulting speed of the pointer.

I’ve always disliked this and always overshot or undershot the targets I tried to move to.

More annoyingly, web browsing often involves fast movements up and left to reach navigation links or the Back button, followed by moving the mouse more slowly back to where it was. The same distance is travelled by the pointer but the mouse travels further each time you move it back. It gradually creeps across the desk, like longshore drift.

Years ago I turned off mouse acceleration in Windows and never looked back.

More recently, I noticed my parents were being very innaccurate with the pointer on the other PC. I turned off the acceleration without telling them. They didn’t mention the mouse feeling different but now seem more accurate with the pointer. This is only anecdotal, of course.

Increased accuracy at very slow speeds with normal behaviour at any other speed makes sense to me. That would keep the pointer predictable whilst being pixel-precise when needed. But that’s not the default and is difficult to make happen. Maybe it’s just me?