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A BETTER MOUSETRAP


December 1, 1999
By Pulp & Paper Canada

Mice have been part of most computers for about 10 years now, and kids have trouble understanding how one could use a computer without a mouse. I first tried a mouse with Word for DOS, version 1, abou…

Mice have been part of most computers for about 10 years now, and kids have trouble understanding how one could use a computer without a mouse. I first tried a mouse with Word for DOS, version 1, about 15 years ago, because Microsoft sent me a present of it, in the hope that I would write about the product. I did not like it at all, and never used the program beyond testing it. It was a few years later that I found Word for DOS version 3 to have many advantages, and have used Word, and latterly WinWord as my principal word processor ever since. However, I found the mouse useless, until the first useful version of Windows came along in about 1990. My 13-year-old is still using the original mouse. Most of the changes in mice since 1985 have been in the direction of cheaper, less robust units, with rubber balls in place of the very effective stainless steel cannon ball in the 1985 model.

Three-button mice have been around for many years, originally I think from Logitech, and I like them, particularly for AutoCAD. Microsoft introduced a wheel between the buttons a few years ago, but it never worked with either of our laptop computers. The wheel is convenient for scrolling up and down spreadsheets and word processing files, and can be configured to do other things in some software.

Several multi-button mice have been promoted, but have not caught on, except in some CAD applications.

More recently, increasing varieties of mice have been introduced by various manufacturers, including several with a large built-in trackball. We bought the Microsoft “Explorer” mouse a few weeks ago, and find its features sufficiently useful to buy another, but not to junk all the ordinary mice we have. The Explorer is a “four button + wheel”, right-handed, optical mouse. Each feature is discussed below. As with most computer products, the sales literature, and product features, are a mix of hype, buzzwords and fact.

FOUR BUTTONS

As with any mouse working under windows, it is possible to re-assign the tasks for the two standard buttons. The third and fourth buttons are on the side, located for use by the thumb when the mouse is in the right hand.

The extra two buttons can be set to perform a number of functions, including “Copy”, “Paste”, “Undo” “Redo”, and call up the “Start menu”, or any of the normal Function keys (F1, F2 etc). We set ours to simulate the “Ctrl” key and to jump to the last window used (as depressing the “Alt+Tab” keys does).

The “Ctrl” feature is good since it saves having to depress the “Ctrl” key to drag-and-copy.

While the above features all work, I do not find the Microsoft button positions particularly good, partly because I prefer to use a mouse in my left hand.

THE WHEEL

The wheel is perhaps the best feature of this mouse. Wheels are available in several other models of mouse.

The wheel can be set by the user to scroll the screen up or down by any amount from three lines of text to a whole screen for each notch of rotation. There are about 12 notches per turn of the wheel. In spreadsheet, word processors, and some other software, the wheel will zoom in and out if the “Ctrl” key is depressed (or the third button as I set our mouse). I find this feature very convenient.

If the wheel is pressed once like a button, a panning icon appears on the screen. When this is active, moving the mouse up, down or sideways pans across the full document on the screen, with speed being controlled by the distance the mouse is moved. This can be tricky to master, but is a very fast way of moving around a large spreadsheet. All this functionality can be obtained with the scroll bars, but the action is much faster with the wheel. In some software, the scroll bars could be eliminated to increase data space on the screen.

The Microsoft Explorer mouse shape is very definitely for the right hand. This suits most people, but I prefer to use a mouse in my left hand, principally because my right hand is free to enter numbers in a spreadsheet using the numeric keypad.

Many older fashioned mice can be held in either hand.

OPTICAL MOUSE

Most mice operate by having a ball roll on the table, and sense the movement of the ball by counting turns of two internal rollers pressed against the ball. This works quite well, provided the operation surface is flat and clean. Many people find need for a mouse pad to provide the best surface. Plain office copy paper stuck to the desk, or an old fashioned desktop blotter, work just as well. The ball is not so good on your thigh in an airplane, on a seat cushion, or on a desk strewn with papers. We find it necessary to dismantle and clean the ball occasionally.

Optical mice have no ball, but sense movement by reflected light. Our Microsoft model works much better than a ball in the awkward conditions described above. It emits a red light on the table surface, which is not beautiful, but does help find it on a messy desk, particularly if the light level is low, as it should be with working primarily with the screen.

The optical motion sensor seems less apt to gather dust, and no dismantling is required to clean it.


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