Inexpensive Mac Accessories

March 17, 2012 by  

We do love our Macs, us Mac fanboys, but the price of accessories is a bit chilling. The good news is that there are a number of ways you can set up your Mac with more reasonably priced peripherals.

Mice: Unless you really need the gestures and other fancy stuff that the Magic Mouse and the large external track pad offer, a plain old everyday mouse may just the thing. The best place to find your best bargains in pointing devices is on the PC side of the aisle in your favorite computer store. Microsoft, among others, makes a number of great mice. Some come with Mac device drivers to enable special features and all, but if you pick up a plain-jane three-button Windows mouse with the track wheel, it’s about 95% sure it will work perfectly on your Mac, as will the various functions. I use a crummy old Dell optical mouse that I picked up at a flea market for $5 or $10 bucks. Just make sure it’s USB and not the older PS/2 standard. It will say so on the box. Some might even come with both (a USB connector and a snap-on adapter for older Windows PCs that still use the PS/2 connectors for mice and keyboards). Also, make sure it’s an optical mouse (there’s a red light on the underside of the mouse). Don’t get the rolling ball type. They pick up dust, dirt, and dead skin cells from your mousepad or mousing surface and gum up the works. Once you start having to clean out that gunk, the time between cleanings gets shorter and shorter. Just get an optical mouse.

Here are several features you will find on an el-cheapo USB Windows mouse that will most likely plug-and-play on your Mac:

  • Right-click: This feature lets you access contextual menus that you normally need to click the Control key while clicking your mouse. If you use Windows at all, or if you have used it, you will welcome the return of this simple little function.
  • Track wheel: Most Windows mice have a rotary wheel, which is used to quickly scroll up and down through a document. Like the right-click function, this capability is also hard-wired into MacOS X. Moreover, in most programs, when you press down on the wheel until it clicks, a small icon with up and down arrows is displayed on your screen. When this icon is displayed, you do not need to roll the track wheel to move up and down a document. Just move the mouse up and down. Very useful if you need to quickly scan through a long document.

Keyboards: The connection information from above applies here, too. Make sure it’s a USB keyboard. Again, many Microsoft-branded keyboards come with Mac device driver software that remaps a few of the keys so they perform more like a “real” Mac keyboard. In particular, without this key remapping feature, some older Windows keyboards swap the Control key with the Windows key when used on a Mac, then the Control key functions as the Command (Apple) key and the Windows key is now the Control key. The Alt key is the same as the Option key on a Mac keyboard. There is a free preference pane called Double Command that will help you quickly take care of this.

Other than that, it’s pretty much up to what you want or like in a keyboard.

If you need a wireless keyboard, the fine folks at CompUSA have an interesting BlueTooth keyboard that is compact and includes a trackpad. All for under $90. It worked right out of the box on my Mac mini, the heart of my media center.

There is one dirty little secret about wireless keyboards that the sales folks at the Apple Store might forget to mention. If you are having difficulties with your computer, you cannot use a wireless keyboard to place your Mac into Safe Mode, to force a boot from a CD, etc. Reason being, the wireless subsystem doesn’t turn on until long after the Mac is able to accept diagnostic-type commands. For this reason, you should always have a wired keyboard and mouse available, should you need to troubleshoot a recalcitrant machine. Just stash it in a drawer or closet. This is where one of those cheap Windows keyboards makes a lot of sense. You can buy a brand new basic bundled USB keyboard and mouse at CompUSA, or similar places for prices starting at under $15.00.

I only mention CompUSA by name because there are several convenient stores here in S. Florida, and you would be amazed at how many accessories, peripherals, and what have you are compatible with your Mac.