20.3 Choosing a Mouse

Use the following guidelines when choosing a mouse or trackball:

Get the right size and shape

Mice are available in various sizes and shapes, including very small mice intended for children, the formerly standard "Dove bar" size, the mainstream ergonomic mouse, and some very large mice that have many buttons and extra features. Most people find nearly any standard-size mouse comfortable to use for short periods, but if you use a mouse for extended periods, small differences in size and shape often make a big difference in comfort. Although oversize mice such as the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer provide attractive features and functions, people with very small hands often find such mice too large to use comfortably. Pay particular attention to mouse shape if you are lefthanded. Although Microsoft claims that its asymmetric ergonomic mice are equally usable by left- and righthanders, many lefties find them uncomfortable and so resort to righthanded mousing. Other manufacturers, including Logitech, produce symmetric mice for which chirality is not an issue.

Don't assume that hand size and mouse size are necessarily related. For example, Barbara, who has small hands, prefers the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer, which is an oversized mouse. She found that using a standard or small mouse for long periods caused her hand to hurt. Changing to a large mouse solved the problem.

Get a wheel mouse

Although some applications do not support the wheel, those that do are the ones most people are likely to use a great deal?Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Mozilla, and so on. Using the wheel greatly improves mouse functionality by reducing the amount of mouse movement needed to navigate web pages and documents.

Consider a mouse with extra buttons

Standard two-button mice (three, counting the wheel) are adequate for most purposes. However, five-button mice are ideally suited to some applications, such as games and web browsing. For example, the two extra buttons can be mapped to the Back and Forward browser icons, eliminating a great deal of extraneous mouse movement.

Make sure the cord is long enough

We have seen mice with cords ranging in length from less than 4 feet to about 9 feet. A short mouse cord may be too short to reach the system, particularly if it is on the floor. If you need a longer mouse cord, purchase a PS/2 keyboard extension cable, available in nearly any computer store.

Consider a cordless model

If your desktop is usually cluttered, consider buying a cordless mouse. The absence of a cord can make a surprising difference.

Buy an optical mouse

Old-style optical mice were a pain in the begonia. They required special mousing surfaces with fine embedded wires and frequently malfunctioned. Red-eye mice changed that. They use a red LED light source and do not require any special mousing surface. We have used them on such featureless surfaces as a beige computer case and a plain sheet of paper. Basically, they work fine with anything other than a mirror or similarly reflective surface.

Because they are sealed units, red-eye mice do not require the frequent cleaning that mechanical mice do. Robert had to take his mechanical mice apart and clean them literally every few days, but red-eye mice can go for months at a time without any cleaning other than a quick wipe with a damp cloth. Good red-eye mice are very precise and extremely durable. Robert's den system had a Microsoft red-eye mouse, which he dropped to the hardwood floor several times a week. Finally, after more than two years of this abuse, the red-eye mouse died with a horrible rattle. The replacement continues to work perfectly, despite frequent falls.

Try a trackball

Trackballs have never really caught on, probably because most require using the thumb to move the pointer. At least one newer model, the red-eye Microsoft Trackball Explorer, resembles a mouse and allows using the index finger to point. In our experience, about one of every 10 people who try a trackball becomes a trackball convert. But trackballs sell probably only 1% the volume of mice, which says there are a lot of people who don't know what they're missing. Trackballs are also available in red-eye versions, and we prefer those to the mechanical versions for ease of maintenance.