Middle Click to Close Tabs is Awful UX on Laptops

The third mouse button is probably best left out when making touchpads, and this article tells you why.


Edited: 2021-09-16 23:05

I have never really gotten used to middle clicking with the computer mice I have owned; in later years, I almost exclusively use the touchpad on my laptop, which makes the middle click not just redundant, but down right irritating.

All of the mice I have owned has only had two buttons and a scroll wheel — technically there is a third button hidden in the scroll wheel, but it does not really bother me as much as the third button often included in touchpads.

Having a hidden third button in the scroll wheel is also bad UX, because the wheel does not feel stable when "clicked" unlike a real button. It is just illogical.

Problems with touchpads

Touchpads are often designed incorrectly in various ways; the most common problems I have with touchpads are the following:

  1. Touchpads often have tiny cracks all the way around them, in which dirt can get stuck and interfere with the signal, resulting in an erratic and jumpy pointer. The cleaning process can be dangerous, because it can damage the touchpad if users are not careful.
  2. Touchpad surfaces can also collect, dirt, skin oil, and sweet from fingers, resulting in erraticness, general nastiness, and unresponsiveness. Again, cleaning can damage the touchpad if not done carefully, but the risk is probably smaller than when cleaning the cracks, since you do not need to use needles or razor blades just to clean the touchpad surface.
  3. Touchpads sometimes come with three buttons, which often results in accidental and unwanted clicks on the third button — especially when the buttons are erroneously hidden below the touchpad, so there is no way to "feel" the location of the buttons.

Solution to the first issue: make the touchpad part of the case-design; a correctly designed touchpad should not have any openings where dirt and other nasty material can collect and interfere with normal use.

Solution to second issue: This going to be difficult. But, I suspect it is a combination of improving the material that the surface is made from, as well as the hardware sensitiveness and software of the touchpad to compensate for moisture on hot summer days.

Solution to third unnecessary nastiness: Do not include a third button with touchpads. Period. If you want to irritate me, then you do it anyway, but if you want to be nice, then you don't do it.

A three-button problem

On a mouse you don't have this problem, since you are free to decide not to use the wheel as a third button. This is not as simple with touchpads, since the buttons will often be hidden below the touchpad surface.

Some mice come with three or more buttons, plus the standard mouse wheel — this might even be good for gaming mice.

But, what tends to happen with a touchpad is the following:

  1. You might accidentally paste things where you did not intend them to be pasted, since the middle click is also configured as a paste-shortcut on some systems — and that is actually a bad security issue, as you might paste sensitive data into a chat window when intending to shift focus to the Window.
  2. As web browsers may be configured to close tabs with the middle click, you might end up unintentionally closing browser tabs, loosing work, and loosing the URL you are currently visiting.
  3. Finally, middle-clicking on a link in a browser window might open it in a new tab.

I am sure if I forgot some, but I also very rarely use middle-click functionality.

In conclusion

I think it is easy to understand why middle click should not be used as a shortcut to close tabs or paste things; even someone used to this behavior might accidentally click the middle button when using certain poorly designed touchpads.

I don't think designers should test things just for the sake of testing; but in this case, these issues might actually have been something that a product test could have caught and prevented. I am not sure if laptop manufactures test their touchpad design, but presumably they don't. If they do, then I find it very strange that we still have all this general nastiness and bullshit happening that irritates people so much.

It happens to be one of those crazy design things that are poorly thought through and that you can not really do much about as a user. That is, unless you are prepared to take your hardware apart and somehow destroy the middle click mechanism in the touchpad — I will not recommend doing that, but sometimes you have to break things to fix them.

Many of us have poorly designed touchpads that often leads to accidental clicks and general situations of bullshit nastiness. Luckily, there are ways to disable the middle click in Linux.

There you have it — I finally got it off my chest!

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