Your computer uses a mouse or other pointing device to follow the movement of your hand, and convert that motion into instructions. These instructions enter commands and move a cursor on the monitor screen. A mouse or some alternative is an essential part of the Windows graphical user interface.
Like the keyboard, a mouse is a simple computer that exchanges information with the main CPU in a computer through a controller in the computer's chipset. Most mice include these elements:
A motion sensor, most often either a light-emitting diode (LED) and optical sensor or a rolling ball that moves along the surface of a table or other flat surface.
A pair of mechanical devices that convert the horizontal and vertical motion detected by the motion sensor into digital data. This data specifies the direction and speed that the mouse is moving.
One or more electrical switches (usually two or three) that respond to pushbuttons on the surface of the mouse.
A small processor that accepts input data from the motion sensor and the state of the switches (open or closed). The processor relays that data to the mouse controller in the computer through either a cable or some kind of wireless link.
Many mice also include a wheel (most often on top of the mouse, between the buttons) that a user can rotate or twist to send another set of instructions to the processor.
When the mouse controller receives data that the position of the mouse has changed, or that a pushbutton's switch has been pushed or released, or the wheel has turned, the controller sends that information to the CPU. The CPU uses instructions from the mouse device driver software to interpret the data and respond according to the device driver's configuration settings.
In practice, this means you can do several things with a mouse:
When you move the mouse along a table or other surface, an arrow or other indicator) on your screen (the cursor) follows that motion or performs some other action.
When you push or click one of the buttons or rotate the wheel, Windows performs an action specified by the mouse configuration settings program.
You can choose among several hundred different computer mouse models, not counting touchpads and alternative tracking devices built into keyboards. The major differences among all these mice include:
Size and shape
Number of buttons
Sensitivity and performance
Color or other decoration
Fortunately, most new mice are not expensive, so you don't have to settle for the generic model supplied with your computer. In most cases, the best mouse is the one that offers the shape, size, and combination of buttons and other features that makes it a comfortable extension of your hand. Therefore, the best way to shop for a new mouse is to go to one or more retail stores, try all the mice on display, and choose one that feels best in your hand. There's no good reason to settle for an uncomfortable mouse.
Most early mice used a small rotating ball that rolled along the table and turned a pair of rollers to transmit motion. A few new mice still use balls, and old ones still work well, but many new models use an optical sensor with an LED or a laser in place of the ball. In most applications, both types work equally well, but manufacturers claim that optical mice offer more precise motion tracking and longer life because they have no mechanical parts.
On the other hand, if you don't abuse it, and you clean out the accumulated gunk every few months, a mouse with a ball inside can last for many years. And if you prefer one of those "upside down" mice that uses a big ball that you rotate with your fingers instead of moving the whole mouse across the table, a trackball is your only choice.
If you do use a mouse with a ball in it, place a mouse pad under it to prevent scuffs or other damage to the table top.
The feel of a mouse in your hand is much more important than the technology that it uses to translate motion on the table to motion on the screen. Unless you need extremely precise operation, either type can give you more than adequate performance.
Wireless mice are more flexible than mice with cables because you aren't limited by the length of the cord, and you don't have to deal with cables that tangle or catch onto objects between the mouse and the computer. If you like to lean back in your chair while you browse the Internet, or if you want to use the mouse for public presentations where you're more than six feet from the computer, a wireless mouse is the obvious choice.
But if you share the computer with other users, or if it's in a public location, a wireless mouse will probably disappear into a desk drawer or somebody's pocket within a short period of time. Even worse, some mice use the same 2.4 GHz radio frequencies as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices, as well as many cordless telephones and microwave ovens, so radio interference can be a serious problem. If you can't use an RF (radio) mouse, consider one that uses the same kind of infrared signaling as a TV remote control unit.
Wireless mice need batteries, and batteries can die at the most inconvenient times. Unless you have a spare battery when the battery wears out (and you remember where to find it!), your computer will be out of commission until you can find a replacement. To avoid this kind of problem, it's a good idea to keep a spare wired USB mouse (and a set of batteries) in your desk-drawer collection of emergency computer parts.
Performance and responsiveness are similar for both wired and wireless mice. If the convenience of using a wireless mouse outweighs the potential risks of loss, theft, and interference, go ahead and try one.
Windows requires mice with at least two buttons: left and right. You use the left one for clicking items to select them and the right button for opening context-selective menus and other right-click functions.
Many mice also include a third button, often combined with a wheel that can scroll text up or down the screen without using the scrollbar at the side of the window, whose performance is set by the mouse configuration utility. Some of the most common uses for the middle button include double-clicking (which sends two left-clicks to the processor), opening a menu, or saving the current document or job. To open the Mouse Properties utility, open to the Windows Control Panel and click the Mouse icon.
If two buttons are good, and three are better, why not four or five buttons, or even more? Some specialized mice offer that option. Additional buttons can be programmed to enter commonly used text strings (such as your name or password), or to enter fast-trigger commands in games and other programs. Don't forget to try a multiple-button mouse before you buy it; if a button doesn't fit easily under one of your fingers, you probably won't ever use it.
The mouse cable or the wireless receiver connects to the computer through either a USB port or a dedicated mouse port that uses the same kind of input connector as a PS/2 keyboard cable. Most new mice use USB connectors, but many come with an adapter for the PS/2 mouse port that is still present on most computer motherboards.
Both USB and PS/2 mice can work equally well. However, a mouse is an extremely low-impact device, so it generally doesn't matter one way or the other.
Just about any new mouse can meet most users' needs, but gamers and other performance geeks might want to examine some other specifications. These include:
Refresh rate: An optical mouse's motion sensor detects new images at regular intervals (up to 500 reports per second in the most sensitive mice). The refresh rate is the number of samples per second. Microsoft calls this the imaging rate, and Logitech calls it the "report rate." When the refresh rate is higher, the cursor on the monitor screen tracks the motion of the mouse more precisely.
Resolution: Resolution is the number of dots per inch (dpi) that the optical sensor crosses as you move the mouse. For most users, 400 to 800 dpi is good enough, but a game that requires more sensitive mouse motion for precise placement of the cursor might benefit from resolution as high as 1600–2000 dpi.
Speed. If you move the mouse across the table too quickly, the cursor on the screen might move farther and faster than you want it to move. The mouse configuration utility often includes an adjustment that can change the maximum tracking speed. When you reduce the speed, you can control the cursor with more precision.
Sometimes it's easier to hold a pointing device in your hand or move a ball with your fingers rather than move the whole mouse around a tabletop. Several manufacturers offer handheld mice with a ball that you can control with your thumb, trackballs, and other alternatives to conventional mice. Still others use a touchpad that tracks the motion of your finger across a surface that detects the electrical charge between your finger and the pad. The signal supplied to the computer's mouse controller from an alternative pointing device is identical to the signal from an ordinary mouse. The only differences are the physical motions by your hand that trigger those signals. If they're designed well, alternative pointing devices can do everything that a mouse can do.
But consider this: Over the last 20-plus years, many alternatives to traditional mice have come and gone because they didn't feel good in anybody's hands. (Trust me on this. My box of junk computer parts is full of them.) If you find something that works for you, go ahead and use it, but don't expect some pointing device that somebody designed on their kitchen table and sold through an obscure Web site to be better than the mouse you can buy at your local office supplies store.
For information about using touch pads and pointing sticks in laptop computers, see Chapter 20.
Every new mouse comes with a device driver and a configuration utility that loads into the Windows Control Panel. If you're trying to install an old mouse into a new system, look for the control software that you can download from the mouse maker's Web site. If you can't find any product-specific software, use the software supplied with Windows.
There's also a set of generic mouse configuration software built into Windows. But unless you're using a two-button Microsoft mouse, you get better performance and more features with the specific program designed for your own mouse's make and model. To open the configuration utility for the mouse installed on your computer, open the Windows Control Panel and choose the Mouse icon.
Each configuration program is slightly different, but many include these options and settings:
The major mouse makers, including Microsoft and Logitech, use the same mouse configuration utility for mice that may have quite different sets of features. Therefore, the first thing to do when you configure the settings for a new mouse is to choose the specific model you're using from the Device menu. If you don't know which model you're using, look for a label on the bottom of the mouse.
The Buttons settings assign specific functions to each of the mouse's buttons and other controls. For example, the window shown in Figure 12.15 sets the settings for a three-button mouse.
Figure 12.15: Use the Buttons settings to assign a specific use to each mouse button.
Pointers are the cursors and other symbols that Windows uses to show the current location of the mouse on your monitor screen. The Pointers menu offers several different sets of symbols, so you can select one that's easy to see against the background of your Windows desktop and other on-screen items. For example, the Windows Default pointers use a white arrow as the normal cursor, which is great for a screen with a dark background. But if you use a lighter background, such as the one shown in Figure 12.16, a black arrow is often a better choice. Other schemes can include a larger cursor that's easy to find, but which can sometimes cover text or other details in a document or a Web page.
Figure 12.16: Choose a cursor scheme that contrasts with the background of your Windows desktop.
Some mouse utilities also include several novelty pointer schemes along with the more utilitarian cursor sets. If you or your children are easily amused, consider installing one of these schemes. However, be wary of cursors and other mouse programs that you find as free downloads on the Internet; they're a notorious source of spyware and adware.
The Motion dialog box, shown in Figure 12.17, includes several options that affect the way the on-screen cursor responds to mouse motion. For most users, the best Pointer speed is someplace in the middle of the range, and the other options are matters of personal taste.
Figure 12.17: Use the Motion tab of the Mouse Properties dialog box to adjust the way the cursor moves across the screen.
The best way to set the cursor speed and other settings in this dialog box is to change one setting at a time, click the Apply button, and see how the new setting feels. When you have set each option to the response you want, move on to the next one.