US$20 / AU$28.75
You can plug a seemingly infinite array of input devices into
your Mac. Only a finite number of their controls will be recognized
and work the way you want with macOS's built-in USB drivers. In
some cases, the necessary third-party drivers haven't been updated
in years or longer. In others, they still don't give you the nuance
or feature you want. That's where USB Overdrive fits in.
Since 1999, Alessandro Levi Montalcini has developed this
missing piece for Mac OS X and macOS that lets you bring nearly any
USB device to a Mac and teach it to dance to the tune you play.
After installing USB Overdrive and granting it permission via
the Security Privacy preference pane's General tab, it
controls settings for all input devices currently connected to your
Mac or added later. You can see the list of devices it's managing
in its Status tab.
Use a powerful set of
options and choices to map undefined controls on input devices
macOS doesn't understand or redefine buttons, scroll wheels, and
other inputs from their defaults.
From the Settings menu, you can control settings by default for
all of a single category of device: mouse, keyboard, game
controller, and other. If you'd like to remap the middle button of
your mouse to mute and unmute system sound, with Any Mouse, Any
Application selected at top, just click the middle button and it's
selected in the input list; you can also click to select it. From
the actions popup menu at right, choose System Control, and then
choose Mute Volume under Action to perform.
You also use the Settings menu to adjust mouse behavior, like
scrolling speed and acceleration, with more degrees of choice than
Apple provides. This took me aback on installing it recently, as
USB Overdrive's defaults were much more lively than mine. Just
select macOS from Speed and Acceleration menus to reassert your
previous choices, or adjust the app's options to fit your
I've found that nearly every trackball on the market or
sophisticated-enough mouse requires USB Overdrive, unless the
device maker's driver is absolutely up to date. Apple's frequent
low-level changes for security and input in the last several macOS
releases have left many devices on upgraded Macs abandoned until a
new driver is released—or forever. Installing USB Overdrive
recovers all the lost functionality and adds more flexibility.
The app has vestiges of its ancient origins. If you want to
limit behavior to a single device or app—like a Logitech trackball
while using InDesign to make it more efficient to your purposes—t
here's no simple set of clicks to add it. Instead, a constrained
set of actions requires choosing the input popup menu in Settings,
choosing New Duplicate Settings, and then picking the combination
to limit what you're setting. A future glow-up to the app could
streamline this process.
USB Overdrive requires a
slightly cumbersome process to narrow down the application of
specific input behaviors.
Every Mac utility of at least a certain age also offers to remap
keyboard entries, and USB Overdrive is no exception. You can remap
function keys and put other keys under USB Overdrive's control, and
assign them to any appropriate action.
The developer releases USB Overdrive as shareware, and requests $20 if you find it useful. Without
payment, the app reminds you at login and during a short countdown
when opening up its interface.
USB Overdrive recently officially came out in its macOS 12
compatible version 5.1. The latest release covers macOS 11.1 and
later as well. Earlier versions dating back to macOS 10.2.8 remain available for download.
We last reviewed USB Overdrive in 2009, when we
concluded it offers Mac users…sophisticated button control that can
reduce clicks and speed up productivity.
Mac Gems highlights great nuggets of Mac software, apps that
have a high utility, have a sharp focus on a limited set of
problems to solve, and are generally developed by an individual or
small company. With the strong resurgence of the Mac in recent
years, we want to celebrate tools we use and that readers recommend
to make the most of your macOS experience. Stay tuned for weekly
updates, and send your suggestions to the Mac Gems Twitter feed (@macgems).