Want To Use A Classic Mac Mouse On A Modern Computer? No? Here’s How To Do It Anyway

Need to hook a classic Mac mouse up to your modern machine with the help of a DIY USB adapter? [John Floren] has you covered. [John]’s solution uses a board with an ATmega32U4 microcontroller on it to connect to the Mac mouse on one end, and emulate a USB HID (Human Interface Device) on the other. A modern machine therefore recognizes it like it would any other USB input device.

Why is this necessary? The connector on the classic Mac mouse may look like a familiar DE-9 connector, but it is not an RS-232 device and wouldn’t work if it were plugged into a 9-pin serial port. The classic Mac mouse uses a different pinout, and doesn’t have much for brains on the inside. It relies on the host computer to read its encoders and button states directly.

This project is actually a bit of an update to a piece of earlier work [John] did in making a vintage Depraz mouse work with modern systems. He suspected that it wouldn’t take much to have it also work with a classic Mac mouse, and he was right — all it took was updating the pin connections and adding some pull-up resistors. The source code and design files are on GitHub.

Even if one does not particularly want to use a classic Mac mouse for daily work, there’s definitely value in this kind of thing for those who deal in vintage hardware: it allows one to function-check old peripherals without having to fire up a vintage machine.

23 thoughts on “Want To Use A Classic Mac Mouse On A Modern Computer? No? Here’s How To Do It Anyway

  1. Even if one does not particularly want to use a classic Mac mouse for daily work, there’s definitely value in this kind of thing for those who deal in vintage hardware: it allows your whining kids to have a feel at how bad things REALLY could have been, if the optical mouse was never invented. :D :D :D :D

    1. +1! You really didn’t want to be the guy in tech support who dealt with broken hardware. Been there done that. I’d rather clean a toilet than a mechanical mouse. The stuff that builds up in there is disgusting. For your own sake please do not think about where it came from.

      1. Due to a severe disability, my aunt uses a trackball under her bare foot instead of a mouse. Let’s just say that mouse crud is not the grossest stuff that could build up in there — not by a very very very long shot.

          1. ehhhwwww… crumbles from the keyboard… ehhhhwwww rolled-over-flattened-crumbles from the mouse.
            I guess some commenters here never changed a diaper? Never owned a dog or a cat (they also do things that need to be cleaned at unexpected moments)? I wonder how you wipe your ass?

            Just wash your hands and get over it! If dirty mice and keyboards are reasons to leave tech support… well, life must be great if those things are are the biggest problems in life.

            PS: never look at the bottom of an optical mouse… they can collect dirt and filth too… they just don’t need that much cleaning.

      2. I learned long ago that if you use a piece of printer paper as your “mouse pad”, it will actually pull the crap out of the mouse and onto the paper while you use it. Then after a few days, simply throw away the now stained and shiny piece of paper.

      3. That depends on how much power “tech support” has at your company.

        I used to work more or less as tech support at a place where “tech support” didn’t exactly lead the company but definitely had a say. We had some very old and slow computers with all but the essentials locked down tight that we kept on the side. If someone did something stupid to their workstation they got to use one of those for a few weeks while we slowly worked fixing their good pc into our schedule.

        It’s a pretty good policy actually. Lessons were learnt! People respected their equipment.

        Anyway.. That was my thought when I saw this article. That would be the perfect mouse for a “punishment pc”!!!

        I guess the crud factor is a strike against that. Back in those days ball-mice were still the norm so I wasn’t thinking about that. I like Jan’s comment about the printer paper though. If it works then maybe that’s the “punishment mousepad”.

    2. IIRC Apple chose single button mice because they realized the average mac user would be confused by a second button.

      Either they eventually came to their senses, the demographic of mac users changed or some combination.

      I’ll grant that my current mouse has buttons I never use (on the side). But I also use a 3dconnexion, whose buttons I do use lefty.

      I don’t miss cleaning mouse balls and rollers.

      1. The weird thing was, I never thought “I want another button on my mouse” on the Mac SE.
        It seems unavoidable now, but the single-button Mac SE was a much better and easier to use machine than the 386 with Win 3 and the two button mouse. But the 386 did have a bigger colour screen.

        1. You clearly bought the mac BS back in the day.

          Easier to do what exactly? Not any sort of business use. Just photoshop. Windows 3.0 was to multitask a bunch of DOS applications. It didn’t last long.

          MacOS remained a steaming pile until Jobs came back and replaced it with renamed NextOS

          1. Soooo many Macintosh shortcuts that required holding one or more keys on the keyboard then clicking the mouse, when they could’ve been done easier and faster with a right click contextual menu.

            Then there’s having just the one menubar which changes depending on the currently active window, and you always have to run the cursor up to the top of the screen instead of just to the top of the window.

            Another Mac slowdown was to bring a background window to the front, it had to be clicked once to select it then clicked again to bring it to the front. Windows does that with one click.

            When Apple gave Mac the ability to minimize windows, they got the method from WindowBlinds with the “windowshade” effect that collapses them to just the titlebar. Thus minimized windows could be lost behind other windows, resulting in bunch of clicking and dragging to find them. 3rd parties came to the rescue with software like Haystack and others which emulated Windows taskbar and Alt+Tab for quickly un-minimizing and bringing windows to the front. There were also contextual menu addons to work with two button mice.

            What’s ironic about all that was the first Macintosh keyboards didn’t have cursor keys as a way of pushing users to use the mouse, which made it tedious to do things the keyboard is most suited for like moving the text cursor a few characters. But the Mac way required moving a hand to the mouse to point and click, taking far longer than poking an arrow key a couple of times. So Steve Jobs’ mouse-centric ideal ended up requiring a lot more use of the keyboard with all the key(s)+mouse click shortcuts.

            I used Macintosh computers through their “classic” era (up to Mac OS 9.x.x) and found the Windows UI much less of a pain in the backside to use, especially after Windows 95’s Start menu made it possible to launch anything with only two mouse clicks.

            What I didn’t like at all was how Windows Me’s default was to launch everything with a single click. Ugh! Too many things going off accidentally with just one click. That and the crazy scrolling Start menu were the first things I disabled (or was asked to disable) on every WinMe system I touched.

            IMHO the Start Menu was perfected in Windows 98SE with the UI additions provided by having Internet Explorer installed. Open Shell’s Classic with Two Columns setting is what I use on Windows 10.

      2. The funny thing is, we ex-Windows 3.x users felt the same I, guess.
        That third mouse button, before it became the clickable scroll wheel we all take for granted, was both a fascinating and confusing thing. Many of us thought “Who needs that? What is it for?”

      3. Apple started out using Xerox style mice with 2 or 3 buttons. In the book “Insanely Great”, they describe how they tested multi-button mice on new Apple employees who had never seen a mouse before and it’s true, they were frequently confused.

        If we think about it, a mouse is really like a paw: you can move it, and you can push on it. You can intuitively only do the things you could do with a paw and everything else is a dissociated function. That’s why it makes sense to have only one button.

        Also, a majority of the Mac core developers were left-handed, and multi-button mice discriminate against left-handers. Right-handed people say ‘why don’t you just [use the mouse in right-handed mode to] flip the buttons over in the control panel’, but then if they ever have to pop over to briefly use your computer it rapidly winds them up if they use a left-handed mouse (they don’t think: ‘aaah, all I have to do is [use the mouse in left-handed mode to] flip the buttons over on the control panel’).

        Mac mice therefore have always been ambidextrous: they moved from a single button to two side buttons (that did the same thing); to two side buttons plus a little track ball; to the surface mouse.

        Amazingly, I do have a Mac Plus mouse! So I can try this hack out :-) .

  2. I remember when the Genius NetMouse came out. That was something that existed for about a day and I think was the precursor to modern mice with scroll wheels. It appeared to have 3 buttons but actually the middle button was multi-part. If you pressed it at the top then whatever window you were on scrolled up, down if you pressed the bottom. I think maybe pressing the center made it act like a normal middle button on a 3-button mouse. I don’t remember for sure. That was just before my Linux days so I wouldn’t have had much to do with a middle button then.

    I came to love the NetMouse almost immediately after I plugged it in! Before long I was getting frustrated at work and school when I had to use a regular mouse.

    Around this time I was talking with some Mac users and discovered they only had one button. They thought I was nuts, I was sure they were. I never had a one button mouse and I have never been able to imagine using one. Sometimes I wonder if the tech and non-tech people are really the same species.

    Eventually my NetMouse died and I couldn’t find any replacement. Instead I had to buy what then seemed like an alien object, a mouse with a scroll wheel. It was OK but I missed my buttons for quite a while. After years of using the scroll wheel I can finally say I’m used to it enough not to want to switch back. In it’s favor the scroll wheel seems to cause less fatigue when using it a lot. The buttons though were much easier to use for precision which came in handy for some things, for example image editing.

  3. i cant imagine having to use a keyboard for what im used to using a mouse for…
    eventhough im one of those people that prefers to use a keyboard for what others use a mouse for…

    every mouse i get i rip-out the scrollwheel and convert to a 2 button mouse (because its in the way)
    but having only ONE button scares me

    maybe someone could glue and wire two mice into one unit and suddenly “right-click” makes more sense

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