IF YOU USE your computer for more than an hour a day, you'll find that little problems get very annoying very quickly. And nothing is more annoying than a mouse that doesn't work.
Mine started acting up a couple of weeks ago -- skipping a bit and landing the cursor just east or west of where I wanted it to go. I ignored the problem at first, but gradually it got to the point where I was spending too much time pawing at the little gadget and not enough time working at whatever I was doing.
This is an affliction that every mouse suffers over time. In fact, your mouse is the part of your computer that's most likely to go haywire. It not only has a couple of moving parts that have to behave precisely, but it's also the part of your computer that's most exposed to dust and grime. When the dirt builds up on the little rollers inside, they can't make solid contact with the little rubber ball underneath that rolls around your desktop.
Sometimes you can solve the problem by opening the mouse and scraping the dirt off the rollers. But after a couple of years of heavy use, most mice will eventually wear out internally. At that point, you have to find a new one. Mine was almost three years old, so I decided to retire it.
If you've looked for a new mouse lately, you'll realize that you're looking at one of the world's growth industries, particularly now that so many home computers are aging and need new pointing devices. There are literally dozens of mice on the market, along with a host of substitutes such as trackballs and touch pads. They come in every shape, size and color.
Now I'm a traditionalist when it comes to these things. The mouse is just a lot better all-around tool than any of the gadgets that purport to replace it. Still, I was impressed by some real improvements in mouse technology -- little things that can make your computing experience more comfortable and less prone to producing hand, wrist and arm problems.
The hot item this year is the scrolling mouse. It looks like a normal, two-button mouse, but between the two buttons there's a little gadget that you can use to scroll through a report, spreadsheet or Web page without moving the mouse cursor over to the scroll bars at the right or bottom of the page.
Big deal, you say? Well, actually it is. Any time you repeat a movement hundreds of times a day, even a small change that saves time and motion can be important. This is particularly true of the tiny wrist and arm movements associated with mouse use that can result in painful repetitive-stress injury.
I tried out a couple of scrolling mice and liked them both. Microsoft's IntelliMouse is now standard equipment on many new computers. If you're replacing an old mouse, you'll find it a major improvement.
To enable scrolling, the IntelliMouse has a tiny wheel between the two buttons. As you roll the wheel with your forefinger, the text, numbers or Web page scrolls up and down. By the way, this works only in Windows 95; with earlier versions of Windows, the IntelliMouse works like a regular, two-button mouse.
If you're using Microsoft Office 95 or other specially designed programs, left or right pressure on the wheel will scroll the screen left or right, which is primarily useful in a large spreadsheet or a Web page that's larger than your browser window. The IntelliMouse can also quickly "zoom" in on data in Office 97 products, an advantage when you want to expand or collapse a view of an outline.
The new IBM ScrollPoint Mouse takes the same approach, but instead of a wheel between the two large mouse buttons, there's a small, pressure-sensitive blue button similar to the pointing device that IBM uses on its laptop computers. All you have to do to scroll is apply pressure to the button, which is remarkably sensitive and an excellent piece of engineering.
IBM claims that the ScrollPoint is better than the IntelliMouse because it will scroll left and right in any application -- not just Office 95 programs. I estimate that 5 percent of the people who use it will care about this particular feature. There are better reasons to try out both mice before making a choice.
One is overall fit and comfort. The IntelliMouse feels just a little larger and heftier than the ScrollPoint and its body is curved, ostensibly to better fit the hand -- particularly if you're right-handed. The ScrollPoint is symmetrical and keeps your hand closer to the desktop.
Which is better?
It's strictly a matter of taste and comfort. I wish I could combine the best features of the two. I like the IBM scroll button better than Microsoft's wheel -- it requires a lot less repetitive movement, although the pressure on your forefinger could get uncomfortable under really heavy use. But I also have large hands, and the IntelliMouse felt a bit more substantial. But both deliver what they promise.
For information on the IntelliMouse, point your browser to http: //www.microsoft.com
/products/prodref/304_ov.htm. To find out more about the IBM ScrollPoint, surf over to http: //www.us.pc.ibm.com
Pub Date: 11/09/97