This mouse works better as a sculpture

July 15, 2004|By MIKE HIMOWITZ

If you bought a new PC recently, chances are good that it came with a no-frills mouse - a boring, two-button, scrolling model with a rubber ball underneath.

There are a couple of good reasons for this. First, it's a good way for the manufacturer to save a buck or two in a market where margins are razor thin. Second, plenty of customers will be satisfied with it - at least until it wears out. Third, for heavy PC users, mice are very personal items - most people who care about them would rather pick out their own.

This explains why retailers have dozens of after-market mice on display in a bewildering variety of shapes and sizes. Mice with scroll wheels and mice without. Mice with two buttons, three buttons, four buttons and more. Big mice for ham-handed grown-ups like me and tiny mice for laptop-toters and kids. For mouse haters, there are trackballs, joysticks and touchpads.

The mouse, in fact, is one of the few PC accessories that accommodates individual choices in ergonomics and style.

Still, there's only so much you can do with a mouse mechanically - and a good one will last a long time. As a result, style seems to be increasingly important these days: The mouse-as-personal-statement has arrived, in shapes and colors designed to dress up the desktop.

In this milieu, it's not surprising that Microsoft - long a purveyor of solid, well-designed, ergonomic mice - has finally gone over the top. It hired Philippe Starck - a French architect and industrial designer renowned for cutting-edge products that range from lamps to chairs to bathtubs to pasta - to create the company's first designer mouse.

It might have been better if Starck had stuck to wristwatches and kitchen appliances. The sleek, silver Microsoft Optical Mouse by S+ark is a thing of beauty, to be sure - but hardly a joy forever.

A streamlined silver ovoid split by a glowing center strip (your choice of blue or orange), the Starck scrolling mouse has no traditional buttons. Instead the entire right and left sides of the mouse are buttons that click when you press down.

It's a concept that Apple has applied to its Macintosh mice - minus the two-button split (the single-button mouse is an icon of the Mac religion). Unfortunately, the mouse is one of the few areas where Mac's otherwise superb designers have let the customers down.

While the lack of obvious buttons produces a clean, streamlined look (think of an Airstream trailer), in practice the design makes it all too easy to click by mistake, because any part of the hand can activate the button. This can be infuriating.

Although the optical positioning system tracked well (optical mice don't need cleaning or mousepads), the Starck mouse didn't have the solid feel or fitted comfort of the Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer I use at home, or the Logitech Mouseman Wheel I have at work.

Both of these are larger and have cutaways for the thumb, which make them far less stressful to use over long periods - at least if you're right-handed.

The Mouse by S+ark is made to plug into a USB port (on a PC or Mac), but will work on an older PS/2 port with an adapter. If you're using the latest version of Mac OS/X, the right mouse button will generally bring up context windows, as it does on the PC. On OS/9 and older versions, the two buttons have the same effect.

Bottom line: Microsoft makes a lot better mice than this one - including a new line of stylish, color mice by its own, competent design team. Still, if you have 35 bucks and want to impress people with a slick piece of desktop sculpture that does a fair job of controlling a PC, the Mouse by S+ark mouse is worth a shot.

Department of infectious diseases: My younger son returned home from a year in England this week. He was happy and healthy, but his laptop wasn't.

"Uh, Dad, you might not want to hook that up to the network right away," he said. "I think I'm infected with something."

Indeed, the machine was sluggish, and Web browsing was a nightmare. His home page had been hijacked and couldn't be restored. Google searches were being diverted to obscure Web sites, and pop-up adds were everywhere.

By now I know enough to see a computer possessed by spyware, malware and adware - programs that track what you do on the Web, compromise your personal privacy and often hijack your computer. Rarely picked up by virus checkers, they're often installed in "drive-by" shootings, meaning visits to Web sites that use holes in Internet Explorer to bury their payloads deep into the operating system.

So I ran my most reliable Spyware remover, Spybot Search & Destroy, which turned up half a dozen little nasties. Most of them disappeared after I ordered the program to clean them out - but I couldn't regain control of the Web browser.

The culprit turned out to be what many people call the meanest, nastiest rustler on the net - a Russian creation called CoolWebSearch. So far, experts have detected at least 27 variants, most of which take pains to hide themselves in obscure corners of the operating system and fight all attempts to remove them.

Most spyware removers are powerless against it, but a visit to produced a link to a program called CWShredder, by a Dutch student who has dedicated countless hours to fighting this constantly mutating plague.

CWShredder worked like a charm on my son's PC.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.