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With today's computers, inputting, accessing, retrieving and printing information are often handled by means of a mouse. Recently, a spate of new technology has spawned hands-free mice, square mice, oval mice, infrared mice and even ring mice you wear on your finger. Some versions hide under your desk and are operated with your feet. Others are cordless, meaning fewer wires and tangles on your desk, and greater freedom to move around your office while still working on your computer. Still others hardly look like mice at all but are simply small, square pads.
Most mice now are ergonomically designed, fitting comfortably into the palm of your hand and contoured to help prevent wrist fatigue and carpal tunnel syndrome. There are also several alternatives to mice.
Trackballs work on the same basic principle as a mouse, but the roller-ball is on top instead of underneath. They became popular when people using portable computers needed built-in mice. Now the device is also available for the desktop PC. Because the roller-ball on a trackball is generally much larger than that on a standard mouse, trackballs are easier to control and are more precise. And while standard desktop mice require a special mouse pad, the trackball can be used on any surface.
Like the trackball, the stationary trackpad does not need a special pad on which to function. You simply activate its electronic sensors with your fingertips, gliding them across the trackpad surface to move your monitor's arrow, and applying pressure to tap instead of click. Most trackpads have "edge motion," which continues to move the cursor across your screen even though your finger has reached the edge of the pad. When you lift your finger, the action stops. Because there are no buttons or balls, trackpads are great for southpaws.
Here's a look at some of the most popular pointing devices available today:
Cirque: The GlidePoint Touchpad from Cirque is a small, shallow, 4-by-4-inch square box with a touchpad. This unmouse has four buttons to use if you prefer mechanical mouse-type buttons, or until you get the hang of using the pad.
The buttons are programmable for both lefties and righties. To move the cursor, simply glide your fingertip over the pad's surface. Tap once for a single click, twice to double-click. Tap twice and glide your finger to drag, draw and highlight. The GlidePoint is available for the PC and Macintosh.
Contour Design: Engineered to relieve repetitive stress injuries, the three-button Contour Mouse comes in three sizes to fit your hand. Size is measured from the base of the palm to the tip of the middle finger; buyers can place their hands on a guide on the outside of the package to determine the size they need.
Contour's research found mouse users need an open, relaxed design rather than the standard, curved design. The fingers need to be elevated, the palm raised and supported, and the wrist lifted off the desktop. The mouse is available for PCs and will be available for Macintosh users later this year.
Gyration: A miniature gyroscope powers the GyroPoint Desk. A traditional mouse that uses a mouse pad, it can also be used as a remote device. With the 10-foot cord, you can sit back and relax while logging on to online services, scrolling through e-mail and conducting other nonkeyboard computer work. Two buttons control cursor and point-and-click functions. Available for both the Macintosh and PC.
Hunter Digital: Look, Ma, no hands! Anyone who's suffered with carpal tunnel syndrome or hand cramps might consider the NoHands Mouse. Using foot pedals instead of a desktop mouse, you can let your feet do the walking-or, rather, controlling. One pedal controls the cursor speed and direction; the other is a clicking device.
While it takes a little practice to master the pedals, you may gain productivity by eliminating keyboard-to-mouse movements. The pedals are 10 inches long, 1.5 inches high and 4 inches wide. The NoHands Mouse is compatible with PCs and Macintoshes.
Interlink Electronics: If you type better on your feet or can't sit still, the cordless RemotePointPlus mouse is for you. This infrared model has a range of 40 feet to a receiver that plugs into a computer port and sits on your desk or monitor. Long and narrow, the device fits neatly in the hand. The large center button controls cursor direction and speed; four smaller buttons can be programmed for shortcuts and favorite "tools." A one-click button is located underneath the device like a trigger and acts as a small stand when RemotePointPlus is not in use.
Another model from Interlink is perfect for heavy-handed users. Made of stainless steel, the DuraPoint combination mouse-and-pad has been run over by an 18-wheel semitrailer to prove its durability. Although not ergonomically designed, the "world's toughest mouse" is a waterproof, compact rectangle measuring 5 by 4.25 inches. There's a mouse "joystick" for your thumb on top, as well as two small pads thast act as highly pressure-sensitive buttons for optimal precision. While the $279 price is admittedly high, DuraPoint can be used alone or integrated into control panels, specialized keyboards and custom computers.
Kantek: The remote control Spectrum RingMouse fits on your index finger and moves where your finger points within a 3-foot range. Two buttons are used for clicking; an infrared receiver attaches to the top of your computer. Designed to minimize strain on your neck, shoulder, wrist and hand muscles, the RingMouse works equally well for left-handed or right-handed users. It uses a long-life watch battery as a power source and has an automatic sleep mode to conserve energy.
Laserex: Similar to Interlink Electronics' RemotePointPlus, the Laserex SM-3 Hawk is a remote-control mouse for general computer use. Particularly useful for presentations is a laser pointer beam to direct attention to important points on the monitor or screen. Three buttons surround the center trackball.
Logitech: The cordless remote TrackMan Live! mouse is geared for use at sales and meeting presentations when you need to stand back from your audience. The slender oval-shaped mouse has three buttons that allow the user to move on-screen data around easily. Logitech also makes a trackball, the TrackMan Marble, with the ball off to the left side so you can operate it with your thumb. Unfortunately, it's only good for righties. The trackball, which comes with a 7-foot cable, is compatible with PCs and Macintoshes.
Microsoft Corp.: An elongated design that fits gently in your palm and supports your wrist, the ergonomic Microsoft Mouse 2.0 has a specially weighted ball to give you greater control and accuracy. The Mouse is packaged with IntelliPoint software whose features include ClickSaver, so you can use one button click instead of two; Shortcuts, which allows the user to assign tasks to the Mouse's two buttons; AutoScroll, for scrolling diagonally through spreadsheets; and ToolBar, which gives you fast access to the IntelliPoint software features from within any Windows-based program. The Mouse has serial PS-2 and bus port connectors to fit most computers.
Microspeed: This company sells both mice and trackballs. For small offices whose staff must share a computer or for times when two people want to work on a document jointly, the MultiMouse serial connector lets you use both a mouse and a trackball, or two mice at the same time.
The MacTrac Deluxe and PC-Trac Deluxe trackballs have oversized buttons and a comfortably angled design. Packaged with control panel software to change how fast your cursor moves, the MacTrac can be programmed for right- or left-handed use.
Mitsumi Electronics: The cordless, two-button Wireless Mouse communicates with your computer via a transceiver attached to your PC through the standard mouse serial port. The mouse has a range of about 3 feet from your computer. It's compatible with PCs, and at $49.95, a good value for your money.
TouchÃ©: The TouchÃ© Touch Pad uses Synaptics technology and is designed specifically for Windows and Macintosh systems. Glide your finger over the smooth surface, tap, double-tap and drag-all without lifting your hand from the surface of the Touch Pad or using buttons. A control panel lets you program the pad for edge motion, personal pressure and gesture control; you can also adjust for a lighter or heavier touch. Palm-sized, it works with both PCs and Macintoshes.
Model: Cirque's GlidePoint Touchpad
Phone Number: (800) 454-3375
Type Of Device: Pressure-sensitive trackpad
Features: Four programmable buttons; glide-extend function
List Price: $89.00
Model: Contour Design's Contour Mouse
Phone Number: (800) 462-6678
Type Of Device: Ergonomic, tilted mouse
Features: Three different sizes; three buttons
List Price: $79.95
Model: Gyration's GyroPoint Desk
Phone Number: (800) 316-5432
Type Of Device: Portable, oval-shaped mouse with wrist action remote device
Features: 10-foot cord; two buttons
List Price: $149 GyroPoint Desk
Model: Hunter Digital's NoHands Mouse
Phone Number: (800) 57-MOUSE
Type Of Device: Foot-operated mouse
Features: Hands-free; 10-inch-long pedals; 6-foot cord
List Price: $199.95
Model: Interlink Electronics's RemotePointPlus
Phone Number: (800) 340-1331
Type Of Device: Infrared cordless pointing device;battery-operated
Features: 40-foot range; two standard buttons plus four programmable buttons
List Price: $199.95
Model: Kantek's Spectrum RingMouse
Phone Number: (800) 536-3212
Type Of Device: Cordless, infrared finger-ring device and receiver
Features: Two buttons; one-year battery; automatic sleep mode; sensitivity adjustment
List Price: $99.00
Model: Laserex's SM-3 Hawk
Phone Number: (800) 225-5503
Type Of Device: Infrared, remote-control handheld mouse and receiver
Features: Three buttons; 30-foot range; built-in laser pointer
List Price: $299.00
Model: Logitech's TrackMan Live!
Phone Number: (800) 231-7717
Type Of Device: Remote mouse
Features: Three progammable buttons; 30-foot range; receiver unit has 4-foot cord
List Price: $149.00
Model: Logitech's Trackman Marble
Phone Number: (800) 231-7717
Type Of Device: Thumb-operated trackball
Features: Thumb-operated; three standard buttons; three standard buttons; three assignable button; cursor tracker option
List Price: $99.95
Model: Microsoft Corp. 's Microsoft Mouse 2.0
Phone Number: (800) 426-9400
Type Of Device: Ergonomic mouse
Features: Windows-and-DOS compatible; curves to the left; two buttons; mouse is rounded to fit into palm
List Price: $59.95
Model: MicroSpeed's MultiMouse
Phone Number: (800) 232-7888
Type Of Device: Serial connector
Features: Plug in two mice or one trackball and one mouse
List Price: $19.00
Model: MicroSpeed's PC-Trac Deluxe/MacTrac Deluxe
Phone Number: (800) 232-7888
Type Of Device: Trackballs
Features: Three buttons; 6-foot cord
List Price: $99.00
Model: Mitsumi Electronics's Wireless Mouse
Phone Number: (800) MITSUMI
Type Of Device: Cordless ergonomic mouse and receiver
Features: Two buttons; 3-foot range; three-year battery
List Price: $49.95
Model: TouchÃ© 's Touch Pad
Phone Number: (800) 223-6433
Type Of Device: Trackpad
Features: Edge motion; pressure-sensitive pad; two buttons; customizable control panel; 6-foot cord
List Price: $59.95
Jill Amadio is a writer in Newport Beach, California, and ghostwriter of Help! I've Hired a Lawyer! (Emptypockets Venture).