AP- Apple Computer Inc. can take credit for pushing the envelope of computer design with its elegant Macintosh. Its software is years ahead of the rest of the industry. Its stylish iPod music player is second to none.
But when it comes to the lowly computer mouse, Apple has long lagged behind everyone else with its stubborn insistence on offering only a single-button technology that seemed stuck in the 1980s.
That changed this month when Apple introduced its "Mighty Mouse" that not only has the ability to left and right click but also to scroll horizontally, vertically and diagonally via a tiny built-in track ball. It”s even got a pair of side buttons.
Though the $50 gadget is unlikely to impress anyone who”s used an optical mouse from Logitech International SA or Microsoft Corp., it still offers some innovations that make it an attractive option for Mac users. (It also works, in a limited way, on Windows PCs.)
At the very least, it shows that Apple has come around to the realization that more than one button is a good idea. Now, its customers don”t have to look beyond Apple for their pointing-and-clicking needs.
Like most Apple products, Mighty Mouse is beautifully designed. Even though it has the functionality of a multi-button mouse, it”s got the looks of something much less complex. Some might say it resembles a bar of fancy soap.
The mouse appears to have no buttons on top, except for the small pea-like scroll ball. Where other mouse makers have made discrete buttons for left and right clicking, Apple has opted for sensors that detect where the user has clicked.
After a week of tests, I found the sensors to be accurate, though it did take a few minutes to get used to the lack of a physical button. Its optical tracking handled the basics of maneuvering around the screen with no problem.
My biggest complaint was the short length of the cord that plugs into a computer”s USB port, though it”s not likely to be an issue if you plug your mouse into a USB port on the keyboard.
Though it”s targeted at Mac users, it also works on PCs running Windows 2000 and Windows XP. But it relies on a generic Windows driver, which limits the ability to reprogram buttons or scroll in any direction but up and down.
In fact, Mighty Mouse only shows its true potential on Macs running the latest version of Apple”s operating system, Mac OS X version 10.4.2.
The scroll ball, which seemed no better than a scroll wheel on my Windows PC, became something useful on my Mac — especially when reading annoying Web pages that require horizontal scrolling.
After installing the included support software, I was able to program the side buttons to launch programs with a squeeze. It works particularly well with the Mac”s Expose feature that gracefully resizes and tiles open windows on the desktop.
It also can be set to trigger Dashboard, which displays a layer of small utilities over the desktop, or Spotlight, the operating system”s search function. It can be set to switch or open other applications.
And, yes, all the advanced functions can be disabled so that it works just like a single-button mouse — for those who prefer to point and click like we did in 1984 even though it”s 2005.