IntroductionLift up your mouse. Does it have a little ball underneath? If so, you’ve got problems. Ever notice that your cursor sticks, jumps or refuses to budge? That’s because the little ball is dirty or damaged. You could keep cleaning the ball with washing-up liquid, or you could disconnect the mouse and chuck it in the bin. It’s ancient history. All mice these days are optical, for good reason. Optical mice don’t have a gunge-collecting ball on their bellies. Instead, a light captures information as you move the mouse, delivering smooth, precise and fast tracking for your cursor. As long as your desk isn’t a mirror, an optical mouse is always best. Today’s Macs ship with Apple’s optical Pro Mouse, which is cool-looking but lacks multiple buttons or a scroll-wheel. Two- and three-button mice are popular on Windows PCs, which have long taken advantage of the extra finger actions. Once you’ve started using a multiple-button mouse, you’ll soon get used to the time-saving benefits. You’ve got more than one finger (apologies if you don’t), so use them. You can assign your most common computing tasks to the extra buttons – crop images in Photoshop, open documents, send email, save, etc. Wouldn’t it be easier to do these with a single click rather than mouse-up to the menubar or hold-down -option-H? The scroll-wheel is even more of a boon. You shouldn’t ever have to worry about those little arrows on scrollbars anymore. Simply move the mouse’s scroll-wheel this way and that, and you’re saving valuable mouse miles. We gathered five of the latest Mac-compatible mice into a veritable test nest. Macworld’s previous recommended mouse was Microsoft’s Wheel Mouse Optical (£25). This three-button scroller is great, if a little too beige for Macs. Now, Microsoft has a couple of new mice that feature much-improved technology. IntelliMouse Explorer/Optical
If you thought that losing the little ball was as far as mouse technology went, think again. How about getting rid of that cable that tethers your mouse to the keyboard… Microsoft’s Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer (pictured above) frees you from too-short or too-long cables. Install the software, and plug-in a receiver to your keyboard (or other USB port). You can then place the wireless mouse up to six feet away – useful for projector-based presentations, where anyone in a boardroom could take control of the cursor. Without the trailing cable, you save far more desk-space than you’d expect. The shape is bulky but comfortable, with palm and finger support and thumb scoop. Sadly, it’s less comfy for left-handers. Both the five-button Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer and IntelliMouse Optical utilize Microsoft’s IntelliEye technology, which captures 6,000 pictures per second to calculate the cursor’s position on screen – compared to most other optical mice, which capture only 2,500 pics per sec. I can’t say that I ever noticed that my old optical being slow, but it’s easy to notice the speed increase in the new MS mice. According to Microsoft, the human hand can move the mouse up to 30 inches per second – but most optical mice can manage only 14 inches. IntelliEye can handle 37 inches per second, and also increases accuracy. The software – which lets you customize the button settings and scroll-wheel speed – unfortunately doesn’t yet work with Mac OS X. Microsoft claims this will be ready by the time you read this, but do check before purchase. The mice do work on X, but you lose the use of all five buttons. Lindy Crystal
According to Lindy, its Crystal Optical Mouse features “Stealth Technology” and “Rock & Roll”. The Stealth means it’s streamlined, which I guess it is – but so what? The Rock & Roll is either Lindy’s secret weapon, or just weird. Like Apple’s Pro Mouse, the Crystal has no buttons, but relies on you gently depressing the whole mouse. Lindy’s trick is that you can “roll” the mouse on both sides – thus gaining an extra “button”. The third is the clickable scroll-wheel. While the single-push Pro Mouse is easy to get used to, I couldn’t get my wrist round the Right and Left rolls. I ended up using the scroll-wheel to click – and that’s a bit stiff, so led to a few accidental page slips. Maybe you’d be better at Rock & Roll than me, but I’d definitely try one before buying. Although it captures just 1,500 pictures per second, I didn’t notice much of a cursor slow down. Lindy says X-ready software will ship December 15. Contour MiniPRO
I’m only slightly better with a laptop’s trackpad than I am with Lindy’s Rock & Roll. I just have to carry a mouse around with a PowerBook. Contour’s tiny-but-able two-button MiniPRO Mouse is now available in “titanium colour” to complement Apple’s PowerBook G4. Titanium lovers will adore this mouse for its colour, but mainly as a trackpad alternative. It comes with a sturdy Pack ‘n’ Go carry-case, which protects the mouse, but does bulk-out the package. Yet again, this mouse is not yet fully OS X compliant. Logitech MouseMan Traveler
Another mouse for laptop owners is Logitech’s MouseMan Traveler. Unlike Contour’s plastic MiniPro, the MouseMan has actually got some silvery metal on it – again, complementing the titanium PowerBook G4. This small mouse is undoubtedly the most stylish of the lot. Unlike the MiniPRO, it does have a scroll-wheel – although this is quite scratchy, as if it needs oiling. Its carry-case is leather-look PVC instead of hard-plastic like Contour’s Pack n’ Go. Logitech says that the software will be OS X compatible at the start of next year.