Mouse still in charge after 20 inspired years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 September, 2004, 12:00am

About 20 years ago - lifetimes in computer years - Apple Computer introduced the mouse as a method of controlling one's computer tasks. Although the company did not invent the device, it redesigned the mouse for mass production and made it reliable to use.


Over the years, both realists and dreamers have pined for a better interface with the computer, but so far none have been forthcoming. The mouse, along with the keyboard, remain the industry standard for input on both Macintosh and Windows personal computers.


I will not say that there has been no improvement, however. The mouse has become more ergonomic, and specialised models have evolved into smaller, more precise and responsive tools.


In a similar vein, keyboards have improved in a number of subtle ways. One manufacturer now makes a keyboard that has the feel and response of older models simply because many Mac users prefer that mode. My wife, for example, uses the Matias Products Tactile Pro (halfkeyboard.com/tactilepro/index.php US$99.98), a keyboard that uses the same Keyswitch technology as the original Apple Extended Keyboard. She likes the feel and the sound, even though it is somewhat louder than the newer Apple keyboards.


I use a standard Apple 109-key Keyboard (store.apple.com US$49) because it was the only one available when I purchased my PowerBook.


Apple makes mouses and keyboards that are wireless and use Bluetooth technology, but I do not know anyone who has purchased them yet. Local radio interference, added expense, and the tediousness of replacing batteries once in a while are the known deal breakers.


In my line of work, I use a Kensington TurboMouse Trackball (www.kensington.com, US$109.99). I do a lot of computer-aide design and graphics, which means I need precision. The TurboMouse Trackball provides that, plus a couple of other indispensable features.


First, it is fast. I use multiple monitors, so going from the trash to the opposite corner of the other monitor is about three feet. I make this trek a hundred times a day, so you can see where fast and precise are useful.


The TurboMouse Trackball also does not move. I can use it even when there is a foot-high pile of papers on my desk. I just reach under the pile, locate the ball and the tiniest motion of my hand rockets the cursor to where I want it to go. But it has way too many buttons. I only use the little scroll wheel above the ball for scrolling documents and websites. I may have no use for the 10 other buttons, but I am sure there are people who find these handy. I also use the Contour SpaceShuttle AV jogging controller (www.contouravs.com) when video editing. The jog knob allows for precise video forwarding and reverse. The Shuttle ring surrounding the jog knob lets me fast-forward or rewind, without thinking about it. If you do a lot of video, it is worth the US$59 price tag.


My wife uses a plain old Apple no-button mouse. I have tried to find her something she might like better but she prefers its simplicity and dependability, even when travelling.


I gave her a small wireless Mini Mouse from IOGear (www.iogear.com) because it was tiny, compact and cute. But she could never get it to work. The batteries were either uncharged, or the on/off switch was forgotten about, or the little radio/USB transmitter was picking up interference. It was too complex to use, especially when you must focus to get work done.


I made the same mistake with my son, who plays plenty of games on his Mac. Unlike his mum, he always wants more buttons.


At a recent MacWorld show, I broke down and bought him a Kensington Wireless StudioMouse (US$59.99 www.kensington.com/html/3989.html). Once again, my purchase was too much of a hassle to use.


My son would forget to replace it in the mouse's charging stand. But even when it was fully charged, this mouse would die after three hours of use. And the idea that it had no wires? Well, the charging stand had two large wires - a USB cable and a power cord - that would not only litter the desk but also come loose occasionally and not charge the mouse even when he plugged it in.


My son now uses a Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer. It has four buttons and a scroll wheel that scrolls in four directions. It is lightweight and precise and sells for between US$30 and US$40.


But all of these new devices are simply variations of the mouse that was introduced 21 years ago with the Apple Lisa. And as much as I would like to see technology leap forward and dramatically improve human-machine interface, it could very well be that Steve Jobs and company got it right the first time.