Microsoft builds a better mouse by scrapping the roller ball

Microsoft builds a better mouse by scrapping the roller ball

IntelliMouse Optical's sensor works better than lint-gathering mechanism in IBM's ScrollPoint Pro

By Michael Cheek

GCN Staff

The Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical finally convinced me that the roller ball had to go. If I'd needed any additional convincing, the IBM ScrollPoint Pro mouse clinched it.

Most PCs come with a cheap generic mouse, even though it's among the most significant of the hardware components. A user handles, pokes, slides, clicks and rolls it constantly. The device gets at least as much of a workout as the keyboard, sometimes much more.

If you're a real power user with four or more computers attached to the same mouse via a keyboard-video-mouse switch, the roller-ball rodent gets more than used. It gets abused.

When IBM and Microsoft sent me their newest mice for review, I attached Microsoft's to my work PC and IBM's to my home system.

The ScrollPoint Pro is now on its way back to IBM. I've replaced it with a recently purchased IntelliMouse Optical.

The ScrollPoint Pro incorporates the usual two buttons, plus a third programmable thumb button.

It fit my right hand, but southpaws won't find the ergonomic thumb recess convenient.

Severe glitches got in the way of effective computing with the ScrollPoint Pro. Instead of the wheel often found between the two buttons, IBM put in a ScrollPoint'a lever similar to the eraser-tip pointer on notebook computers.

Pressing forward on the ScrollPoint scrolls up; pressing backward scrolls down. This lacks the finesse and unambiguous direction of a wheel, because the harder you press the ScrollPoint, the faster it scrolls. When it's released, the scroll slows to a stop'it's not immediate.

The IntelliMouse Optical, in white, fits either hand, whereas the ScrollPoint Pro has a right-handed thumb recess.

Pressing the third button by default locks the mouse in scroll mode, so moving the mouse forward or back scrolls up or down. The button can be programmed.

Mechanically'or perhaps it was a software glitch'the test ScrollPoint mouse had a tendency to hiccup. If I scrolled up, stopped and clicked the button, the scroll would sometimes start again without registering the click. Sometimes starting a scroll would cause a click.

The IBM mouse has the same ball found inside most mechanical mice these days. It clogged with lint and began skipping in only two weeks.

Usually I get a couple of months' use before lint causes problems.

Quick and clean

On the other hand'or rather on the other computer'the IntelliMouse Optical disposes of the lint-gathering ball and incorporates a small visual sensor that lights up neon red by drawing power from a PC or Apple Macintosh.

Box Score

ScrollPoint Pro

Three-button ergonomic mouse

IBM Corp.; Armonk, NY;

tel. 888-411-1932;

Price: $39

+ Good shape for right-handed users

' Occasionally malfunctions

' Scrolling imprecise

' Mechanical ball needs cleaning often

IntelliMouse Optical

Four-button ambidextrous mouse

Microsoft Corp.; Redmond, Wash.;

tel 425-882-8080;

Price: $41

+ Optical sensor

+ Works on most surfaces

+ Precise performances

' Two programmable buttons work only for USB

Every second, the IntelliMouse's eye takes 1,500 snapshots of the surface on which the mouse rests. A microprocessor inside the mouse tracks changes in the surface pattern to determine the mouse's movement.

The IntelliMouse Optical worked on nearly every surface I tried. It didn't do well with glass or mirrors, but a mouse pad was fine.

The IntelliMouse Optical has the usual two buttons and a wheel, plus two slender buttons along the sides. These programmable buttons work only if the IntelliMouse is plugged into a Universal Serial Bus port. By default, they are set as forward and backward buttons for the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser.

Microsoft includes an adapter for a PS/2 port.

The mouse is shaped uniformly so it's ambidextrously friendly. Moreover, the software drivers have a left-handed setting to reverse the button locations.

The IntelliMouse Optical shows that there's still room for improvement in the mouse category. You pay no price premium for its excellence, so you might want to consider bouncing the ball and heading for the light.


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