Review: Macally iLaser mouse – Software bugs ruin a good mouse - Macenstein

Review: Macally iLaser mouse – Software bugs ruin a good mouse

Posted by Lab Rat

iLaser Mouse by Macally

The iLaser Programmable 5 Button USB Laser Mouse ($29) by Macally is perhaps the best example I have seen of a “communication failure� between a device’s hardware engineers and its software engineers.

The iLaser is a nice-looking mouse, designed for use with both left and right-handed users. It is a little on the “light� side weight-wise, but doesn’t feel cheap either. The “Left� and “Right� mouse buttons are fashioned from a single piece of plastic, sort of like Apple’s mice, but with a central slit down the middle. This gives the iLaser a nice clean look. In the center of the mouse, we find a panel containing the scrollwheel, and a “Back� and “Forward� button. These four buttons, combined with the scrollwheel’s ability to serve as a button make for a total of 5 buttons, all of which can be programmed to perform certain tasks via Macally’s “Macally Mouse� Software (v5.3).

And therein lies the problem.

I have so many issues with the Macally Mouse application, I don’t know where to begin.

Well, for one, it IS an application. Why Macally couldn’t make the iLaser’s software into a System Preference (like Microsoft and Logitech) is beyond me. In fact, I so expected it to install a System Preference, I actually installed and rebooted twice, thinking it did not install right the first time. Eventually I realized it must have installed an actual application, and sure enough, there it was.

Upon opening the application, I found the mouse was correctly identified (this same application seems to be used to program ALL of Macally’s USB mice and trackballs) and I was presented with a list of programmable buttons. In theory, in addition to the 5 actual buttons, you can program 4 other variables to act like buttons, such as what the mouse should do when a user presses the scroll button, holds it, and then scrolls up or down.

There are a wide range of functions you can program the various buttons to perform, such as “Launch URL�, “Open Item�, and “Keystroke�. Using these, you can program mouse buttons to open folders or applications, bring up your favorite website, or simulate the pressing of certain keys. This last one is especially important if you want to assign your mouse buttons to work in Exposé, as you cannot assign them in the Exposé System Preference (oddly, when you first plug in the iLaser, before installing the software, you CAN assign the scroll wheel to an Exposé function, but once you’ve installed the Macally software, this no longer works). Also, it should be mentioned that the “Launch URL� command seems to only launch web addresses, and does not understand the “mailto:� command, so you can’t use it to automatically open a blank e-mail (although you CAN set the mouse to open the Mail application with the “Open Item� command).

Perhaps the best thing about the iLaser’s programmability (and something I found lacking in Logitech’s S530) is that you can actually program the buttons to do different things depending on what program you are using at the time. So, you can make the “Center Back� button launch Automator, yet if you are using iTunes pushing it can cause the window to scroll left and right. This is a very nice feature, yet somewhat limited as there are no good actions for media player scrubbing functions or “play/pause� in apps like QuickTime and iTunes.

Now, I am saying you can program the buttons to do all these things (and more), but actually DOING that is going to confuse the heck out of you. For example, suppose you want to assign the “Center Back� button to open a webpage. You would first select the “Center Back� button in the software, choose the URL you want it to open (you have to type it in, copy and paste does not seem to work) then you would quit the Macally Mouse application (so your change can take affect), only to find the “Center Back� button doesn’t do anything. So, you would then go back into the Macally Mouse application, and upon seeing that the “Center Back� button is indeed correctly set to open your webpage, you might then think to test something else. So you might then set the button to open Photoshop instead. You then close the Macally Mouse application, and click the “Center Back� button, and surprise, surprise, Photoshop doesn’t open, but the webpage you originally asked it for does!

Macally Mouse application
Above: You will quickly grow to hate the Macally Mouse application.

We were quite confused by this behavior, so we tested the mouse on 2 other machines here. On all three computers (a PowerMac G4 (running OS X 10.3.9, a Quad G5 (OS X 10.4.7), and my original dual 2Ghz G5 PowerMac (OS X 10.4.7)) the software behaved the same. What we eventually came to understand is, in order for any of your programmed mouse functions to work, not only do you need to quit the application, you need to quit it TWICE. So, you need to program your buttons, quit the Macally Mouse app, then open it, then hit “Quit” again.

How’s THAT for intuitive?

Another problem I have with the Macally Mouse application is you do not get real-time feedback when adjusting such things as mouse tracking speed and scrolling speed. Just like the mouse buttons, you need to first quit the app (TWICE!) and then see how fast you actually set the tracking speed. If you aren’t happy, it is another launching of the app and two “quits� to change it again. Now, since the Macally Mouse software seems to be geared to control ALL of Macally’s USB mice and trackballs, I am going to assume this must be an iLaser-specific issue, and software must perform better with other Macally models (or else they would have gone out of business long ago). However, having tested this software/mouse combo on 3 systems and 2 OS versions and finding identical behavior, I feel it is safe to assume this is indeed a real issue.


So, is this a horrible mouse? Unfortunately, no, the mouse itself is great. I wish it WAS a horrible mouse, so I could just rate this a “2�, tell you stay away at all costs, and get it over with. The problem is, the iLaser is probably one of the most accurate mice I have tested, and this one (unlike many other laser mice) really DOES work on glass. I actually tested the mouse on the vertical side of the 60 gallon fish tank I have sitting next to me at the lab, and it worked as smoothly as if it were on my desk!

The problems with the iLaser mouse are completely software-related. Should Macally release an update to their Macallly Mouse app (or, better yet, release a Macally Mouse System preference!) that addressed these problems, I would give this mouse an “8�. As it stands, recommending this mouse is a bit of a problem. Once you know the work around, and once you set the mouse up to do what you want, it performs great. The odds are you will not need to re-visit the software very often. The problem is, unless you have read this article, there is no way for you to know how to make the software perform, so you will likely spend a good half hour scratching you head (as we three “geniuses� did) before understanding just what the heck is going on. The iLaser only costs $29, so you may think this is a case of you get what you pay for, however, with proper software, this mouse would be up there with the $50-$60 big boys.

The iLaser Programmable 5 Button USB Laser Mouse by Macally

Price: $29

Pros: Nice design, fits both right and left-handed people, actually DOES work on glass surfaces, 5 programmable buttons

Cons: Idiosyncrasies in the software make actually programming the iLaser a confusing ordeal.

3 Responses to “Review: Macally iLaser mouse – Software bugs ruin a good mouse”
  1. jMac says:

    I have this mouse and I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say. I have an additional issue, which is that whenever I log out and log back in again, I have to unplug the mouse from the USB port and plug it back in again before the additional buttons are recognised again. That, coupled with the software problems you describe, mean that, even though I really like the look, feel and functionality (when it’s working) of this mouse, I’m probably going to head back in Logitech’s direction at my next mouse buying stage. Why can’t Macally make their software into a System Preference and just make it work?


  2. scralpha says:

    Is it possible to use the mouse *without* the funky software? For 29 bucks, I could probably do without the extra buttons as long as basic functionality is there (left/right-click, scroll vertically). Any luck on an Intel-based Mac?

  3. The mouse worked fine with basic functionality BEFORE installing the software. It should work fine if you do not install the software, but you are right that you will miss any of its unique features. Macally wrote us at the time of the review that they had an updated version of the software, and would send it to us, but they never did. The software shipped to us at the time of review was version 5.3, and that seems to be the most current available version for downloading.

    Check back with them often if you do buy it, because we thought it was a very good mouse, and with the right software, it would be great.

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