Searching for mice, you name price

October 08, 2001|By Phillip Robinson | Phillip Robinson,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

A mouse is such a little thing.

But a mouse can matter a lot.

And you'll discover that the moment yours stops working, as mine did last week. Without a mouse, it's hard to control a modern home computer. Oh, Windows and Linux pros can get around it, and some even prefer to work mouse-free, speed-typing their way to better performance than any mouse allows.

But this was my iMac mouse, and the Mac is almost impossible to control without mouse power.

My iMac mouse had been balky for a while, being slow to move the cursor up or down - though still quick at sliding it right or left.

I tried a new mouse pad, thinking the ball underneath the mouse wasn't getting good contact with the table.

That helped. A little. (And let me explain here that by "table" I really mean "floor" - being one of those people who believes the floor is a massively underemployed natural resource, the largest shelf, table and desk in the home, with plenty of room for, oh, say three computers, assorted modems and disk drives, printers, CD-ROM piles, cables, and several musical instruments. In just one room.)

I tried cleaning the mouse ball. You flip the mouse over, rotate the little plastic shield that keeps the rubberized ball in its socket, blow the dust off the ball or wash it gently and dry it thoroughly, then return it to the socket and refit the shield.

When that didn't help, I removed shield and ball again and used a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol to clean the little wheel contacts for the ball, the rollers that it touches to signal the computer about your mouse movements.

That didn't work either.

And soon enough, the up-and-down movements stopped working completely, and the side-to-side were only working a little.

So I turned to the last procedure in my technical toolkit.

I threw the mouse at the floor.

That fixed the side-to-side, but didn't seem to adjust the up-and-down problem at all.

Well, I'd heard the iMac mouse was a pain, and I hadn't ever liked the circular shape of it - pretty to look at, but it didn't let you know intuitively which direction to slide it to get the cursor moving as you wanted.

So, off to buy a new mouse.

They start at $5 and go up to $100.

For $5 to $15 you can get a perfectly fine "mechanical" mouse. That is a mouse with a ball on the bottom. Move the mouse, the ball rolls in a socket, it touches sensors, signals go to the computer. That's what the iMac mouse had been.

Except that the iMac mouse had a USB connector. The least-expensive mice only have a standard PC mouse connector. That's what I'm using on my current PC, and this $7 mouse is doing just fine. Well, add $2 to $5 for a mouse pad.

To get USB, you need to spend at least $15 to $20. And now that new Macs and new PCs have USB ports, you can use this kind of mouse on either computer. In fact, most USB mice now come with software for both Mac and PC (meaning Mac and Windows, generally, though Linux recognizes most mice and has the drivers to work with them too).

This works-with-all type of mouse has something PC users take for granted and Mac users don't know about: a second mouse button.

The left button is for choosing things, the right mouse button is for popping up a little menu of immediately-useful commands.

Macs are made to work with one-button mice, but many Mac programs will also recognize and respond to the right-mouse button, too. (If you have only a single mouse button, try holding it down while pointing at something on screen and you can get the right-mouse menu after a second or two.)

Most new mice also have a feature not found a few years ago, and not even on my iMac mouse from last year: a wheel between the two buttons. This is a scrolling wheel. Roll it forward or backward and you can move up or down within a window - such as a long Web page - without having to move the mouse to the scroll bar on screen for clicking on the tiny arrows. I like the wheel, though I keep forgetting it is there. You might want a new mouse just to get a wheel, especially if you work on long documents or spend a lot of time on the Web.$15 also marks the lowest price I found for an "optical" mouse. This means "no ball." There's a tiny sensor on the underside of the mouse that watches any changes in the surface, interpreting these as movement. Years ago, this required use of a special mouse pad, but now it works on most any surface. And it means no worries about cleaning hair and dust away from the ball or rollers.

So what do you get if you spend more than $15 for a mouse?

You might get a trackball. That's basically an upside-down mouse. Instead of moving the ball across the table, you rotate the ball in the socket. This means the "mouse" casing doesn't move, a good thing if you're short on desk space or have an arm tired from all that slapping back and forth.

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