USB Overdrive is a shareware program that works as a universal usb driver for peripheral devices like keyboards, printers, mice, speakers, joysticks, and other usb input devices, specifically for the Apple operating system, Mac OS X. USB Overdrive can also configure those controls in various ways, such as mapping them to keyboard presses, calibration, and a number of other functions.
For more than 10 years, the USB Overdrive program has allowed Mac users to control and customize their usb peripherals, in particular usb mice, keyboards, and gaming devices. Not to mention, Bluetooth versions of these usb peripheral devices as well. USB Overdrive gives Mac users more advanced options than the software included with such peripherals, and it often allows Mac users to take advantage of some hardware tools that have no official Mac support.
The latest edition of this software, titled simply “USB Overdrive 3”, works as a 32 or 64 bit system preferences pane and works with Mac OS X Tiger, Leopard, and Snow Leopard versions. With this software, you can do a lot of cool things like configure mouse button functionality for specific applications. One example would be if you customized the right button to act as a double-click in the Finder but as a Save button in BBEdit. Another example could be turning a wired or wireless Mighty Mouse into a left-handed device or use the special media keys on many third-party keyboards without installing that device’s software.
During my product experiment, I removed a regular stock Logitech mouse and keyboard software and then installed USB Overdrive on my iMac. Then I programmed it for use with my Logitech diNovo keyboard and the Logitech MX1100 computer mouse (both of which are initially compatible with a Mac).
I was able to set the MX1100 left button as a single-click, the right button as a double-click, and then set one of the thumb buttons as a control-click for the various Mac contextual menus. Clicking on the scroll wheel for the mouse activated the Dashboard by default, and everything else worked as I expected. The scroll wheel functioned properly in all four directions, and the software offers individual controls for scrolling speed and differing acceleration rates in each direction. You can also set clicks to:
- enter key combinations
- activate system controls
- launch applications
- open files or folders
- execute AppleScripts
There were a couple of minor issues when I tried setting up the Logitech diNovo keyboard. This particular model keyboard (like many others) has special keys for functions such as display brightness, Expose, Dashboard, iTunes playback, volume, and application launching. With Logitech’s drivers installed, those keys functioned properly. But with USB Overdrive installed, some of these keys worked and others just didn’t.
The developer for USB Overdrive explained that the program generally takes over sections of keyboards (interfaces) that it can see, rather than individual keys, and that many vendors use non-standard or hidden code for their various buttons. He has chosen not to try and support individual devices that do not specifically conform to regular human interface device (HID) guidelines. That being said, USB Overdrive does include some good workarounds for some specific devices.
How do you know if a key is supported? When the USB Overdrive preference pane is open, clicking on a button will add it to the list of buttons that you can control. If you go ahead and click on a button and nothing really happens, then USB Overdrive cannot handle it. In the case of my keyboard, the keyboard’s special commands overlay the F1 to F19 keys, so I could still activate the keyboard’s built-in brightness controls, for example, by pressing the fn key along with F1 or F2 (as defined in Mac OS X’s Keyboard preference pane).
USB Overdrive’s interface can also be a little tricky to figure out. Here are the four options under the Settings tab:
- Any Mouse, Any Application
- Any Gaming, Any Application
- Any Keyboard, Any Application
- Any Other, Any Application
These controls are considered universal. To create any device or application specific controls, you need to choose the New Duplicate Settings command to copy those settings to a new set and then assign that set to a particular device or application. As soon as this is set up, you have complete control over your devices. What’s really peculiar is that the keyboard configurations don’t show up under the Keyboard option, but rather under Mouse and Other.
If you’re already using an older version of USB Overdrive users (version 10.4.8), then keep in mind that the version 3 cannot read preferences from older versions. So if you have lots of device or application specific settings, you’ll need to recreate them in the new version. But USB Overdrive 3 can now import and export its settings, so at least you’ll be able to move them from one Mac to another.
Despite its minor issues and some limitations, USB Overdrive offers Mac users a great button control that can reduce clicks and speed up productivity. And in my time using it, I’ve found it to be much more stable than any version of Logitech’s own software, which has caused problems for me for years.