Optical mice

Introduction

A computer without a mouse is like a bike without handlebars – it will go, but not where you want it. Apple was the first company to ship a mouse with its computers, and the Mac was therefore a real landmark in personal-computer ease-of-use. Apple’s first two mice were boxy affairs; its next was truly curvaceous. The mouse that came with the iMac, blue-&-white Power Mac G3, and early G4 was shaped like a hockey puck. Everybody hated it, and Apple replaced it recently with its sexy, optical Pro Mouse (see Reviews, September 2000). This now ships with all new desktop Macs, and is available for £46 (including. VAT). If you want rid of your stupid Apple round mouse, two new mice join the Pro Mouse as optional substitutes. There’s also a trackball mouse replacement for those that dare to really think different. All three utilize the latest optical technology to do away with dirt-collecting, input-device-degrading mouse balls. No mouse ball means no moving parts to clean or wear down. Now, your every movement is just a trick of the light. Optical mice work by beaming a light on the surface beneath the mouse and taking pictures of it. To ensure precise tracking – even if you’re whizzing around like Jayne Torvill on speed – the mouse takes 1,500 pictures per second. A high-performance digital signal processor analyzes these pictures to determine the direction and magnitude of movement. This data is then communicated back to your Mac, and interpreted into the screen’s smooth pointer action. MiniPro protected
The MiniPro Mouse (£33) from Contour Designs is about as big as a New York cockroach. But one styled in corrugated clear Apple-like plastics – with choice of five clip-on iMac-colour button tops – the MiniPro is about three-quarters the size of Apple’s new optical; see picture, top right. Just as the cockroach has two brains, the MiniPro has two buttons. Apple has stuck with one button since day one – don’t ask me why. After you’ve downloaded the driver software from Contour’s Web site, you can configure the smaller second button to complete your most frequent tasks – for example, scrolling up and down, double-clicking, etc. The driver software also has settings for a third “middle” mouse – ignore this, as the MiniPro has just the two (still one more than Apple’s Pro Mouse subtle clicker). The MiniPro also comes with a sturdy “Pack N’ Go” travel case – a bit like a glasses case – to protect it and its cable if you carry it around with your PowerBook or iBook. Wheel Mouse high-scroller
Many Macintosh users wouldn’t dream of throwing out an Apple-designed mouse in favour of one made by Microsoft, but don’t judge Bill Gates’ hardware too quickly. When we reviewed Microsoft’s optical IntelliMouse Explorer (March 2000), we rated it highly. At the time, it was a lot better mouse than Apple’s yoyo-like affair. Apple’s Pro Mouse caught up with the IntelliMouse in terms of optical technology, but didn’t include the handy scroll wheel that makes scrolling with a document or window’s side bars a thing of the past. Microsoft’s Wheel Mouse Optical (£25) is similar but doesn’t feature the Explorer’s side thumb buttons. The Wheel Mouse (pictured bottom left) is plainer looking than the silver Explorer – its PC-beige case looks odd next to Apple’s latest flash Macs. Either side of the scroll wheel are two buttons, and the wheel itself can be clicked as a third. Microsoft’s IntelliPoint control panel lets you change cursor sensitivity, as well as customize operation of the wheel and buttons. You can set the three buttons to click, double-click, scroll, make the Finder active, launch Sherlock, open an item, cut, copy, paste, undo, or programme your own keystroke. IntelliPoint’s SnapTo automatically moves the pointer to the default button in dialog boxes. Most people would just hit the return key, but for those who insist on dragging the mouse all over their screens to click default buttons (step forward, Macworld’s keyboard-shortcut-shy Art Director), this is a real boon. Once people get used to a scroll wheel, they rarely look back. A canvas of opinion in our offices led to two people saying that they couldn’t live without one. The wheel works with Finder-level windows and most programs, but not Adobe GoLive or a main document window in QuarkXPress. Trackball tricky
A trackball is like an upside down ball-mouse. Instead of moving the whole thing around and triggering optical responses, you move a ball on its side. If you’ve never used one before, be warned – it’s not as easy as it looks. If you found the PowerBook’s – pre-Trackpad – trackball a breeze, then a trackball may be for you. Microsoft’s Trackball Optical (£35) comes with the same IntelliPoint software as the Wheel Mouse and earlier Explorer, and so shares all the benefits of its neat button-programming tools. Having five buttons – including the clickable scroll wheel – further enhances it. I can’t get my head – let alone my hand – around the motions of moving the ball and not a mouse. Fingertip control sounds wonderful, but it made my clumsy digits ache after just a few minutes. A quick test of Macworld’s editorial staff showed that I am not alone in this trackball-phobia, but there are certainly some ballers who wouldn’t touch a mouse no matter how cute it looked. For them, Microsoft’s Trackball Optical (pictured bottom right) is well worth a try. If you are tempted by a trackball, however, Microsoft offers a full refund if you’re not satisfied “for any reason” and return it within 30 days of purchase.
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