As for me, there are two main factors:
1. There are many great old models with fine mechanics and nice ergonomic shape - but interface is outdated, and/or resolution too low to be usable on contemporary systems. Typical 200 pulses for revolution value was totally sufficient for 480x640 screens, but can not be used with modern FullHD displays.
Limited number of currently available trackballs is a main motivating factor to make something useful by retrofitting of vintage device with modern electronics. Most of old trackbals could be modified by replacing some internal components, to increase resolution. For optical devices, this means replacement of sensor; for opto-mechanical ones - replacement of shutter discs and, if required, phototransistors. For really old models with ADB, serial, PS/2 or some proprietary controllers, they could be either replaced with USB ones, or converted with USB adapters.
2. Even new ones might require some tweaking to fix design or manufacturing flaws, e.g. excessive button pre-travel.
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