The smallest piece of computer equipment on your desk--the mouse--may look insignificant, but, as you know, its functions are tremendously important. Yet it's so often taken for granted, most of us expect it to respond year in and year out without so much as a squeak.
Well, today's mice are roaring--they've got lots of new functions, a better fit, a variety of shapes and even rubberized side grips. Some have been flipped on their backs, with the movable ball on top of the mouse instead of underneath; other models are cordless; and a few don't even require a mouse pad. Touchpads, too, have made the leap from laptop to desktop, and, for those more comfortable with this type of pointing device, a touchpad can now be bought as a peripheral, plugging in to your computer the way a standard mouse would.
Mice have advanced in their design as well: You can find a mouse to fit the exact shape of your hand, whether you're a southpaw or a righty; another model is as high as it is long, a comfortable fit for sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). How about a joystick-styled mouse instead of a standard mouse? This type of design can cut down not only on CTS, but also on the muscle fatigue in your arms and shoulders.
Maybe you think best on your feet. If so, you might want to consider a cordless mouse, which still works even when you're at a 40-foot distance from your computer; and, with one model, you don't even have to point the mouse at your PC. Hate those moveable balls under your mouse that sometimes get stuck? You can buy a mouse that doesn't have one, or even get a trackball, which has it on top. Scrolling wheels are also popular on the latest mice; some models have them on their sides, others up on top.
Dual-purpose buttons are common on new models. One of Contour Design's mice for Mac users has buttons to allow for a variety of tasks that would normally require keyboard-plus-mouse-click combinations.
Virtually all these new mice require Windows, and some even demand a CD-ROM drive. Several are compatible with both PCs and Macs.
Prices for some of these new models may seem a little steep for those used to using a standard two-button mouse that sells for around $12. However, the benefits of using a pointing device that helps relieve fatigue, numbness and CTS could make a noticable difference in work productivity, especially if you or your employees have to take frequent breaks to massage sore muscles or de-numb those fingers. Fortunately, prices for those models are continuing to drop.
But there's another reason why you should consider picking up one of these new, innovative pointing devices: "Technology for mice is about played out," explains Steven Wang, president of Contour Design. "[It's likely] the mouse you buy now won't be obsolete for quite a while."
Contour's three-button Perfit Mouse is the only mouse on the market available in multiple sizes. According to Wang: "Macintosh and [PC] users typically work with software applications that are very mouse-sensitive, which aggravates stresses and strains associated with average mouse use. Our special designs help power users to work longer and with less muscle effort."
If your work requires a lot of scrolling, Logitech is among the companies selling an ergonomically designed mouse with a scrolling wheel between two of its four buttons. With a high-profile shape that lets your palm rest into a natural, rounded position, the company's MouseMan Wheel puts its scroll wheel right under your fingers for instant control. The mouse is made from a new soft-touch material that covers the places where your hand holds the mouse, and there's a handy thumb button you only need to click once for a double-click. Each side of the mouse has rubberized grips to help keep your fingers from slipping.
One of the most high-tech mice on the market is the GyroMouse Pro from GyroPoint. This cordless mouse is based on three technologies: gyroscopes, a mouse ball mechanism and a radio frequency. Gyroscopes inside the mouse track your hand movements and translate them to cursor movements dozens of feet away from your computer without having to point the mouse at the screen--which is especially useful for presentations. The mouse ball technology allows you to use it as a normal mouse when you plug the unit's radio receiver in to your computer's mouse port. And with its own AC adaptor, you can recharge the receiver overnight.
Cirque prefers to refer to its mice as "cats" because rather than standard mice models, these products are peripheral touchpads that sit on your desk. Control functions include a scroll area, one-touch zoom, programmable buttons, and right and left tap lines.
That glowing red taillight you may have spotted on a colleague's desk is one of the most advanced mice this year: Microsoft's highly precise IntelliMouse Explorer. It uses an optical sensor to capture high-resolution digital snapshots at a rate of 1,500 images per second. A built-in digital signal processor compares those images, translating changes into seemingly magical on-screen pointer movements--which eliminates the need for a mouse ball or mouse pad. The IntelliMouse Explorer plugs in to a standard mouse port.
Another company that has researched the muscle strain and discomfort that result from mouse use is Animax International, which has developed a joystick-style model called Dr. Mouse. "A joystick places the wrist in a neutral, upright position that removes pressure from the median nerve in the wrist and helps to prevent the pressure and swelling attributed to mouse-based carpal tunnel syndrome," says Bill Handel, national sales manager for Animax. Dr. Mouse has a top rocker button for left and right control, and a third programmable button on the shaft for scrolling.
Choosing the right mouse can mean the difference between low and high productivity. Taking time to assess the pros and cons of each can benefit not only your work, but also your health.
Jill Amadio is a freelance writer in Newport Beach, California, who has covered technology for nine years.