We’ve mentioned BetterTouchTool here on HackCollege before (Luke uses it and I’ve mentioned it here), but we’ve never actually gone in depth into just exactly how powerful and useful it can be. I always talk about how I love Windows and the Alt key so much, but BetterTouchTool delivers a considerable counterpunch in the form of ultra-customizable mouse gestures that can be just as effective. So today, I’m devoting an App of the Week feature to this wonderful little program that supercharges your Trackpad/Magic Mouse’s utility.

Platform Availability: Mac OS X 10.6 and up

Cost: It’s free! Download it here!

What it is: If you go into system preferences, you’ll see 12 or so options for configuring your Mac’s Trackpad/Magic Mouse. But all you can do is check Apple’s boxes and turn on/off a limited set of functionalities. Do you ever wish that you had more thorough control over the Trackpad? BetterTouchTool opens up Pandora’s box and gives you as many options as you can dream up – literally.

If you can believe it, there are even more gesture options available…What it Does: Set Touchpad/Magic Mouse gestures to either pre-defined actions or custom keyboard shortcuts for controlling your applications. For example, in Chrome, I’ve set Three Finger Swipe Left to switch one tab to the left and Three Finger Swipe Right to switch one tab to the right. It’s incredibly handy when you don’t have to memorize complicated keyboard shortcuts, and you can just use intuitive mouse gestures like that.

Features: App-Specific Gestures and Multiple Profiles – You can choose whether you want a gesture-shortcut combo to perform globally or just within a specific application. If you use multiple workflows with common functions, setup multiple profiles within BetterTouchTool – one set of gestures for when you’re surfing the web and another for when you’re editing photos.

Live View – See exactly how the Touchpad/Magic Mouse interprets your fingers’ movements. This is very handy for understanding if you’re performing some of the more complicated gestures correctly in order to tell if it’s the program acting wonky, or (more likely) you’re acting wonky and not performing the gesture properly.

Print Your Gestures – Sometimes, it can get a little overwhelming if you have dozens of custom gestures that all do different things in different programs. If you ever have trouble remembering, BetterTouchTool can print out a slick handout that breaks down your gestures by program and lets you know how a Two Finger TipTap Left differs from Chrome to Photoshop.

Window Snapping – As I previously mentioned when I covered Windows 7’s Aero features, I love Aero Snap and find it incredibly useful for comparing windows side-by-side. Along with a glut of mouse gesture options, BetterTouchTool also includes global window snapping functionality à la Windows 7. You even have the option of assigning this to either a keyboard shortcut or a mouse gesture!

Great Help – While it can appear daunting, BetterTouchTool offers very thorough help buttons that explain exactly how to perform its various gestures. If that’s not enough, visit this page to find a manual with great illustrations explaining how to perform some of the more complicated ones.

 The Competition: There are two other apps that can do what BetterTouchTool can, but none are really as customizable. BetterTouchTool is also the only app that features window snapping.

JiTouch – $6.99 - Mac OS X 10.6 and Up

MagicPrefs – Free - Mac OS X 10.5 and Up

Why the Featured App is Best: While all these applications are rather complicated, BetterTouchTool has the most intuitive UX. Add an application to the pane on the left, and then add specific gestures to the pane on the right. Choose the gesture and then either an action from the drop-down menu or a keyboard shortcut: It’s that easy. The other applications are unintuitive to navigate and don’t provide as many features. In addition, BetterTouchTool is really more of an open sandbox, while the other applications are like confined playgrounds. They’re designed more with the developers’ conception of recommended gestures assigned to recommended actions before hand. If you want as much control over your gestures as possible, go with BetterTouchTool.

Summary: Macs are all about looking forward and merging together design and functionality. To really make that true with multi-touch gesturing, download BetterTouchTool. Assign gestures to whatever actions you like and revolutionize your workflow! Or just use it to browse the web with one hand, if that’s your prerogative…

What are your favorite BetterTouchTool gesture-action combos? Or maybe you want to tell us why the competition is actually better? Let us know in the comments!