People who use a computer for hours every day spend a lot of time on the selection of the computer itself, and on the display, but few of us ever pay a lot of attention to all of the possibilities for mice.
Given the amount of time that we spend using computers, not to mention that we are in the hey-day of the graphical user interface, we should give more consideration to a key piece of modern computer input: the mouse. Beginning with a prototype built in 1963 at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto, CA, then through its famous inclusion in the Xerox PARC prototype word processor, and then on to use with the Apple and other early computers, the mouse has long been a part of the personal computer. It should be noted that early computer industry writer John C. Dvorak one said, of mice, that “There is no evidence that people want to use these things”. Just goes to show you.
We seem to have proven Mr. Dvorak wrong over the last 26 years, with what has been a bewildering array of mice and mouse-like pointing devices, which have mainly settled down into one basic mainstream style with any number of variations. The mouse may be one-, two-, or three-button. It may be corded or cordless. It (still) may be mechanical or laser-driven. And it may or may not have any number of auxiliary buttons or a scroll-wheel. It is among this set of features that you will probably be selecting a mouse.
Cord or no?
The first initial feature to select is probably the decision about whether your mouse will be physically attached to your computer or not. Saying yes to a cord means that there will be a mouse cable trailing along one side of your work area, probably toward the back, to where it will plug into your computer, usually via a USB port. Saying no means that your mouse will communicate with your computer via a radio-style (IrDA or Bluetooth) beam of one kind or another, invisible and non-physical.
The corded mouse gets the electricity it requires from the USB port. The cordless mouse uses a battery or batteries for power. The corded mouse has a better connection, since it is physical, but one which is constrained by the cord (for the same reason). The cordless mouse will occasionally be seen to “skip” tiny fragments of the arc transcribed by your hand movement, but rarely noticeably so.
The cordless mouse also requires that you be more prepared. Since it requires a battery in order to work, and since batteries deplete themselves with use, it is easy to find yourself standing at a 7-11 store at 2:00 in the morning buying a mouse battery so that you can finish that critical report for work or school. If you select a cordless mouse, buy lots of batteries and check your stock often. Along these same lines, when you replace your corded mouse, keep it in case the replacement fails at some point, be it corded or cordless.
Mechanical or laser
Mechanical mice were the order of the day for a very long time, using either wheels or a ball, both of which quickly became clogged with every bit of lint or fuzz within a three-mile radius, causing erratic movement on your display. Laser mice did away with this. Good riddance to lint and fuzz; absolutely buy a laser-driven mouse.
Computer mice come in a wide variety of sizes and surface curvatures. This variety is exceeded by at least an order of magnitude when considering the size and shape of a human hand. Between the two, you would be well-advised to see how a particular mouse feels in your hand before buying it. Make sure that it feels good in your unique hand, not too tall, short, wide, narrow, tall or low. Make sure that your fingers easily reach all the controls that you have decided to buy. Most chain office supply stores have a wide variety of mice on hand for you to try.
If you spend a lot of time working with vertical pages of material, such as Web sites, text documents, or spreadsheets and you constantly find yourself scrolling through those documents, perhaps a scroll wheel is for you. Scroll wheels are a truly intuitive way to move through long documents, and even if the concept seems a little odd, you will almost certainly find yourself liking it in practice after a short time.
Many mice are available with extra buttons, many of which are programmable via a software program that runs on your computer. These buttons can be useful for some applications. A simple example would be two buttons that are used for going forward one page or backward one page in your Web browser. Having those buttons would keep you from moving your mouse to the browser display controls, which can be a big time saver. If you like little conveniences like this, consider extra buttons. Make sure the set-up program will run on your operating system before you buy such a mouse.
Gaming mice, for serious gamers, are festooned with what most of us would see as a bewildering forest of fingertip controls spread over their surfaces. Dedicated gamers need to do a lot of things in very quick succession, and a gaming mouse is a must for them. You all know who you are and have already done the research necessary to win at all costs, so have at it.
There is a new genre of mice which have surfaces able to recognize gestures such as those used on touch-screen devices like smartphones and tablet computers. The most common of these is the Apple Magic Mouse, available for both OS X and Windows. If you use a smartphone or a tablet, you know how useful gestures are in those arenas, and might well benefit from a mouse that you could control at least partially with gestures. If you like the idea, at least give one a try.
A trackball is essentially a ball-driven mouse turned upside down. Instead of moving the mouse to turn the ball which in turn moves the cursor over your display, the trackball stays in one place and you move the projecting ball across all axes and this moves the display cursor. There are any number of uber-geeks who are completely dedicated to the trackball and would be more than happy to tell you about it for hours on end. Try one for yourself to see if you could be a convert.
Who knew that there was so much variety in pointing devices?