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Have you noticed that computer hard drives keep getting bigger, processors keep getting faster, and Windows keeps getting newer? The one constant in the computer world is change. Except when it comes to that one little device on your computer that you can’t do without — the mouse (as in the pointing-device kind). You probably don’t think about the mouse unless it stops responding properly and you have to clean it, or you go out and buy another one since they’re so cheap. Which is precisely the reason for this article. A conventional computer mouse uses a rubber ball and rollers to determine where you want your pointer to point. If you turn a conventional mouse over, you will see part of the ball sticking out. There’s usually a little piece of plastic that you can rotate and the ball will fall into your hand. Inside, there are two rollers. These can always use a good cleaning because that rubber ball picks up dust and other gunk from the desk or mouse pad, and deposits it onto the rollers. When the rollers get a buildup of gunk, your pointer will stop responding or start to move erratically across your screen. So what to do? You could either take apart and clean the mouse every other week, or keep a drawer full of new mice. Or, in the alternative, might I suggest an “optical” mouse. Instead of a rubber ball and rollers, an optical mouse uses a tiny digital camera on the bottom of the mouse. This camera takes more than 1,000 pictures per second of the surface beneath the mouse. A small digital processor in the mouse interprets these pictures and translates the movement of the mouse into movement of the pointer on your computer screen. The result is a smooth, accurate, and gunk-free computer mouse. And I can’t forget to mention the “cool” factor involved with optical mice — most of them have a red glow from the bottom. And not only that, optical mice do not require a mouse pad. That’s right — you can use an optical mouse right on the surface of your desktop, or on your pant leg for that matter. Only mirrored or glossy surfaces sometimes confuse the camera and can cause erratic pointer behavior. But once you use one of these optical mice, I guarantee you’ll never go back to gunk. Two main players in the optical mice world are Microsoft and Logitech. MICROSOFT I’ll be looking at two optical mice from Microsoft — the “IntelliMouse Mouse Explorer” and the “IntelliMouse Optical.” I purchased the IntelliMouse Mouse Explorer several months ago and it definitely started my addiction to the optical world although I’ve now prefer the IntelliMouse Optical. The Explorer offers a slightly odd shape compared to a conventional mouse but it’s not difficult to get used to. The main drawback is that the Explorer is for right-handers only. The Explorer incorporates a small “hump” in the middle left of the body which allows it to be more ergonomic, and a little more comfortable for users. The Explorer is a little bigger than regular mice too, so that might be a plus for those that shop at the big and tall store. The IntelliMouse Optical reverts back to the more conventional shape of a mouse. It is perfectly symmetrical in its shape so it can be used by either a righty or lefty. Both Microsoft mice use a “wheel” in the center between the left and right mouse buttons. We’ve probably all become familiar with wheels in mice that allow users to scroll up or down a document without having to click on the scroll. In addition, both Microsoft mice also have two extra buttons. On the Explorer, the two buttons are both on the left side of the mouse and can be clicked with your right thumb. On the IntelliMouse Optical, the two buttons are symmetrical — one on each side. All the buttons on both mice can be programmed. For example, a gentleman I know uses the IntelliMouse Optical and has his two extra buttons on the sides programmed for “Back” and “Forward” so that when he surfs the Internet, he doesn’t have to click these buttons on the screen. These two products and other Microsoft Mice can be viewed at http://www.microsoft.com/ mouse/mouse.htm. LOGITECH Logitech has taken optical mouse technology a step further than Microsoft. The main product I looked at from Logitech was the “Cordless MouseMan Optical.” I found this product to be fantastic. The mouse is literally a small hump of a critter that gives a great feeling of freedom. It’s an optical mouse so you’re not restricted to a mouse pad or specific area beside your computer. The mouse communicates with your computer via a small transmitter that plugs into the computer and uses a small radio transmitter to communicate with the mouse portion. As long as the mouse is within 6 feet of the transmitter, it is a very capable pointing device. Computer mice have tails because they need power to operate. With this cordless mouse, power comes from plain old AA batteries that are housed in the mouse part. Logitech claims that the Cordless MouseMan Optical can go for 3 months before the batteries need to be replaced. I’ve been using mine for over a month with some very heavy use and it hasn’t petered out yet. Just like the Microsoft mice, the Cordless MouseMan Optical has a wheel situated between the two top buttons, but just has one single button below the right thumb rest. The thumb button can be programmed, but its main function is to initially “connect” the mouse portion to the radio transmitter. Once this communication is established, you shouldn’t have to re-connect unless you unplug the mouse. The wheel at the top is “pressable” and Logitech calls it the “Web Wheel.” There is extra software you can install with the mouse so that when you press the “Web Wheel,” a small graphic pops up on the screen offering several options — accessing your favorites folder, click backwards or forwards in the browser, reload an Internet page, or get to the Logitech help files. While this function innovative, I personally didn’t find it too helpful and turned it off. The “Logitech Mouse Family” can be found here: http://www.logitech.com/cf/products/ mice.cfm?50,55. CONCLUSION Make sure the next mouse you purchase is “optical.” After saying that, any of these mice I reviewed will do fine. I would say that if you feel more comfortable with a tail on your mouse, get the Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical. If you like the idea of not having to deal with a cord, the Logitech Cordless MouseMan Optical is definitely the choice. The one thing you should definitely do before purchasing a computer-rodent is to go down to your local electronics store and “feel” the mouse in your hand — this gives you the best idea for comfort and ease of use. A last note – all of these mice work on either a PS/2 or USB port on your computer. (The PS/2 port is usually a small round plug, and the USB is a flat rectangular plug.) I recommend using USB if your computer has it, but make sure you’re using at least Windows 98 for proper USB connectivity. All of the mice come as a default with USB plugs, but if your computer is a little older, or you’re still running Windows 95, you’ll be able to use the little green adapter for PS/2 that is provided with every mouse. Brett Burney lives and works near Akron, Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected]

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