What Happened to the Microsoft Trackball Opticals?

For years now,  I’ve cherished my two Microsoft Trackball Opticals (one at home, one at work) fearing the day when I’d have to replace one. My Microsoft Trackball Opticals (MTO’s)  are rarer than you might think. Not only has production of the MTO been discontinued — mine might be some of the few MTO’s produced that actually work.

This is one of the early "smooth-operating) hardware versions of the MTO.
This is one of the early “smooth-operating) hardware versions of the MTO.

About ten years ago when I first started using the MTO, I became almost religiously converted, evangelising trackball mice to anyone who would listen. Many converted — some to the Logitech series and some to the MTO’s I recommended so highly. Many sore wrists and arms were healed. Mousepads vanished. Desktop space formerly reserved for wandering mice was given back to the commons. Water almost turned to wine once.

Then, a couple years later, I noticed some people, including my mother in law, were complaining that the trackballs in their MTO’s were just too sticky. A coworker said he had to clean his constantly, and even then it was tough to roll. I was convinced they were doing something wrong.

“Did you use window cleaner? Is hand lotion gunking it up? ?”

My MTO, which I had been using for over 5 years, was smooth as glass. I could gently flick it and the ball would spin freely and silently in the socket, like a beach ball in a pool. Not so in the other’s mice.

One day at the office I decided I had to figure out what was going on. On a whim, I put the ball from my MTO into the socket of the “bad” mouse. It worked smoothly, just like mine — huh? The opposite was true: putting the other mouse’s ball into my MTO’s socket exhibited the same tough rolling my coworker complained about. It must be the ball!

Looking closely at the two extracted trackballs side-by-side, it was clear: My MTO’s ball was glossy, and in the mirror-like reflection I could make out fine details in the window and office. The other ball had a somewhat cloudier finish. My mother-in-law’s mouse had the same problem.

Here’s what I know. The “bad” mice were more recent productions of the Microsoft Trackball Optical (a lighter , more gray plastic is the most noticeable difference).

I have a few theories on why the trackballs got in such poor shape:

  • The newer MTO’s shipped with poorer quality trackballs with a less polished finish and never worked smoothly. (Maybe… But that seems like something QA would have noticed and rectified quickly.)
  • The MTO’s worked fine out of the box, but the plastic used in the trackballs was less durable and eventually degraded.
  • The MTO’s worked fine out of the box, but the little metal bearings upon which the trackballs rest were produced differently and scratched the trackballs over time.

Whichever the case may be, I realized I may never be able to find a good high quality trackball mouse again — at least not one with” forward” and “back” buttons. The MTO was the only trackball mouse with more than three buttons on the market. Today you can find some used MTO’s for sale online at inflated prices, but I suspect most of them are of the defective variety.

Worse, I knew thousands of people probably tried those flawed MTOs and either suffered with them or gave up on the whole idea of trackballs altogether. Maybe this is why the MTO’s were pulled off the market. Or, maybe there just wasn’t enough demand to begin with. My irrational side feared manufacturers would soon cease production of trackball mice. My future grandchildren would have to listen to my endless rants about the way things could have been.

So, last month when I read about the upcoming release of the Logitech M570 due to “overwhelming demand,” I knew I could put my fears to rest. And, with the unceremonious  arrival of the new Logitech M570 at my doorstep last night I’m ready to tell you what I think about it. Will it live up to my unrealistic expectations and help me overcome my sentimental attachment to my proven, sexy Microsoft Trackball Optical? Find out shortly in the review….

27 thoughts on “What Happened to the Microsoft Trackball Opticals?”

  1. I came across your article while looking at reviews about the new Logitech M570 Trackball. I must have been as fortunate as you were to get two of the smoothest operating MTO’s when they first came on the market. I still have and use them both – one for home, one at work. And also like you, I have wondered what I will do should the time come when either of them start having problems and/or quick working. I am very glad to have read your initial positive review of the Logitech M570 as well as the favorable update after 4 months of use. It is very encouraging to know that there is a viable option, should I decide to go ahead and make a change.

  2. Hi There! Thanks for your posts. I’m looking for a replacement ball for my MS Trackball Oprical 1.0. I’ve scoured the Internet & cannot find the “Red Ball’s” dimensions in mm. Do you know? Will any of the Logiteck ones fit? Thanks! Juli 😉

  3. Hi – I have experienced both a rough and a smooth ball on the MTO. The rough ball was actually a former smooth ball, cleaned with some alcohol or other cleaning fluid. This degraded the upper plastic ever so slightly – very annoying in operating that trackball. I had to throw it out.
    Ever tried to ask what your friends used to clean the ball? Just being curious 😉

  4. After many years (15? Surely, 10+), one of my MTOs started double-clicking and I just ordered an M570 (funny how it costs 10% of the wired Logitech Trackball on amazon), let’s see if it’s as good. I have both black and grayer MTOs and never had any issues with the ball on either. I’d bet on Maarten’s theory of cleaner-induced deterioration. While balls never gave me trouble, I regularly have to clean the three small metal ball bearings from the gunk. Using fingernails works fine.

    1. I have had both (As well as the last version of the wired Logitech trackballs not the newer corded Marble style!) and they have all been great I did break my first Logitech Trackball by dropping it!

      It is smooth and fast I do miss my Microsoft Trackball Optical I do not know what happened to it it just disappeared one day replaced on the family computer with a mouse!

      Gunk can build but on the pins that let the balls glide use a soft bristle tooth brush to clean it and if you must clean the ball I never have had too just use mineralized water if you must use a fluid and a fine microfiber cloth like a shamwow their are similar products out there I use it to clean the buttons on mine!

      If you end up liking the Logitech Wireless Trackball/Trackman M570 buy at least one spare keep it in the box and place in a large zip-lock bag than a bigger box to help keep it in good nick I have two spare one brand new in box the other was new but I have used it a few times on other computers!

  5. I too love my MTO mouse. I have version 1.0 and when I find one especially from a complaining client, I scoop it up trying to clean it and use it for myself.
    I cannot find these and my latest one just gave up this morning.
    I was cleaning it with a wipe and I thought I was careful but I must have squeezed water or something to short it OR it was just failing anyway. I noticed the little metal balls inside (3 of them) can get dirty so I cleaned them every so often and it worked. Also the plastic inside sometimes would get dirty so had to clean or vacuum that out.

    Now I am searching for a new wired one. I cannot stand wireless as too many times the batteries will drain.

    Anyone find the Microsoft Trackball again? It was the greatest technology I think also!
    Even some of the high end gaming trackballs are similar but hard to find and find in stock.
    thanks danny

  6. I too have an MTO and loce it. I’ve had it for years and it’s worked perfectly until I started using a Belkin switcher. I have two laptops and one monitor so wanted to try and make lufe easier for me. Unfortunately, I’m now finding that my MTO is malfunctioning (according to my laptop). I’ve checked the drivers, the pointers, I’ve tried it working directly into the laptop and it works for a time and then fails? Do anyone have any ideas, please?

    Thank you.

  7. I too have an MTO and love it. I’ve had it for years and it’s worked perfectly until I started using a Belkin switcher. I have two laptops and one monitor so wanted to try and make life easier for me. Unfortunately, I’m now finding that my MTO is malfunctioning (according to my laptop). I’ve checked the drivers, the pointers, I’ve tried it working directly into the laptop and it works for a time and then fails? Do anyone have any ideas, please?

    Thank you.

    1. Try installing the drivers than reinstall them (I hope you have the CD or can find them on the net!) followed by a reboot is all I can offer if that does not work might be time to replace it with a Logitech Wireless M570 Trackball!

      And if you end up getting a Logitech M570 and like it by a spare just in case before Logitech decides to go the same way as Microsoft!

      BTW With the Logitech M570 you can use it with any Logitech keyboard and or mouse system that use the Unifying Receiver meaning you take up less USB ports!

  8. I have 3 of the Trackball Optical 1.0 (PN X05-87475) and love them. As a US Navy Sailor, I find them to be invaluable when on ship, where space is at a premium. There have been times where the laptop takes up the entire desk space and I have the trackball attached by Velcro to a special support strapped on my leg.
    I dread the day one stops working, although I have seen several adverts on eBay for repair services. I’m not sure I trust them though but with luck I’ll not need to test the claims.

    1. You can always switch to the Logitech Wireless Trackball/Trackman M570 which is very similar and you can use with other Logitech Wireless devices that use Unifying Receivers meaning you take up less USB ports and have less cables to deal with!

  9. One comment more. If you have many scretches on MTO ball, you can always use weak polishing agent (f.e. regular tooth paste) and polish this with cloth for several minutes.

  10. Love my MTO! I have had it for coming up to 10 – 12 years. Great for design work and application development as I glide from this to that.

    I have heard some complain they are not much use for gaming on other sites but having been a professional gamer in my former life for several years I disagree.

    Had a few issues a year or so ago and stripped it and cleaned everything up inside. Used a hot glue gun (sparingly) to insure nothing could be stretched or pulled to tightly inside. Ball is still nice and shiny and responsive.

    I have looked up the costs of replacing it should it fail and was quite shocked at them. Probably the greatest mouse ever to be created in my opinion!

    Friends can’t believe I still use the same mouse I had all those years ago (they have had many mice over the years but my MTO has outlasted them all).

    Now I shall use it to click ‘Post Comment’ and glide away in to oblivion 🙂

  11. Hi, I use the MTO since 10+ years too. I started with a old logitech Trackman (also thumb driven) in 1993! The pricing of a new MTO now are horrible high (if they are really new!). The only what happen with my one is that the three balls of the Bearings now more and more flatten and the ball slips deeper in its (red transparent) cradle and touch it inside.
    I already tried to get such cradle as spare part, but without real success. I bought some used MTOs but most of them had the same problem. If someone has a good idea to repair it, I would be happy about.

  12. Gosh, I can’t believe people are still talking about it. I have 5 IBM PS2 keyboards left and I think 6 Dell SK-8125 keyboards. I also have three Microsoft trackballs. When I see something great, I’m so scared they would stop making it so I buy a bunch. Two of my MTO are still in the box because the original one still works exceptionally after over 20 years. I love it when I’m on planes, it doesn’t move around a lot, and the best part is nobody except me can use the mouse with ease.

  13. This is absolutely madness!! How can a product with such strong following AND endorsement just simply disappear? I have five of these precious little devices that I absolutely hoard! I’ve had two refurbished via the GREATEST guy on ebay trackballs_r_us he repaired my older trackballs. I wish I knew if the patents around this device are for sale… I would BUY!!!

  14. Like others, I too have several ‘old’ input devices like a Logitech trackman and IBM Model Ms that are just heavenly to use. And I just acquired a MTO and my, my Microsoft hit a home run with this product. It actually fits my hand better than my Logitech although it is suffering from a lack of glide and a chip in the ball. I found this place while searching for a way to improve the glide, but alas it seems to be a known issue without a really good known solution.

  15. Adding my voice to the chorus… I simply ADORE this mouse! I had four of them but one died last year and I actually cried like a baby. Mine work flawlessly and smooth, only some little dust got into the ball socket once or twice and with cleaning out was good as new. So why did it have to go away? I wish I could find some more somewhere at reasonable prices I would buy them all! I am a gamer, 3D artist, and illustrator and it works beautifully for everything I need.

  16. I also have 2 of these, plus 2 of the Logitech M570. I like the MTO, but when I lost one of mine a couple of years ago, and was setting up 2 computers at home last year, I went with the Logitech, for the same reasons as everyone else. I subsequently found the MTO in a box in storage, so I have a spare!

  17. I still use mine, had it since the year they came out! I found that when the red track ball starts ‘dragging’ it means the three little metal balls/bearings that support it have worn and have a flat side. I’ve had success at using small needle nose pliers to rotate the three balls to a new spot that is not flat, then polish the red ball with a little plastic polish (find it in an automotive store), almost good as new!

    I’ve read that you can get 2mm silicon nitrite balls from Amazon and carefully replace the worn out ones that support the red ball… I’ll probably try that next.

  18. I’ve had my MTO since the year they came out. I love it for gaming. I feel I have a better response time with it than with my Razer Copperhead mouse (which sits collecting dust). My favorite part of the MTO (in gaming) is the placement of the Forward/Backward buttons, makes for a quick weapons change or melee strike.

    I’ve even sent an email to Razer Inc. to look into making a gaming trackball similar to the MTO, but i received a courteous blow off letter.

    I also enjoy using the MTO for video and photo editing. I just wish someone would listen to us Trackballers and build something like the MTO again.

  19. Well, I’m another longtime MTO user with great luck up until recently, when it started showing the effects of about 20 years of heavy use. The trackball still works perfectly, but the buttons are getting a bit difficult to register & the wheel seems to slip a bit.
    I bought a used MTO online & for the most part it is in good shape, however the trackball seemed to drag a bit & I was afraid that the ball bearings might be worn or scored. I swapped the ball from my original MTO into the replacement & it now performs as well & smoothly as the original used to.
    While some may need to change the bearing seats, it definitely is the trackball itself in this case. I plan on trying to polish up that ball to see if I can improve its action.
    Next step is to dismantle the original one & see if I can breath a little more life back into it.
    I have a new Logitec M570 sitting here but I prefer the MSO!
    Capt. Jim

  20. How about an update?
    I recently sent in my original MTO to a repair site, & I have to tell you, DO IT! After registering with the “Trackballs R Us website, I received an email telling me to ship it in with prepayment & it would be repaired shortly. That was a great understatement!
    I shipped it Aug. 28th, & received it today, Sept. 7th. It is working like brand new. It wasn’t too bad, but the buttons had gotten a bit sloppy, as well as the scroll wheel. The trackball still worked really well though.
    He gave it an overall refreshing & if it continues to work like this, it was well worth it. I have a spare that still works pretty close to how the original did, &I tried buying “a like new” one which was worse than both of mine.
    Dunno what it is with MS, but they jumped the track when they discontinued making this MSO.
    Capt. Jim
    PS: I gave the Logitec M570 to my grandson last week as he left for college.

  21. Have had mine for an eternity, along with my Sony MDR-V6 headphones. These are two accidental finds that just work perfectly and do not stop. I’m typing on a Model M, but I confess that I bought it NIB a couple of years ago for north of a hundred dollars, along with the twenty dollar USB adapter that feeds more power than usual.
    I’m very heppy to see you folks here sharing great info about this trackball. Mine stick horribly from time to time, but gets better after some TLC (fingernail picking the lint and t-shirt polishing the ball).
    Thank you for the info. I’ll buy new pins/balls if needed, and now I know there’s a guy on e-nay who does good work fast for cheap!
    You guys rock.

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