Apple recognises the right-click, finally

After years of offering only single-button mice, in early August Apple released the US$50 Mighty Mouse, with a scroll ball in the middle and the ability to right-click and left-click. With its driver and a current version of Tiger (OS X 10.4.2 or later), you can program the Mighty Mouse as though it had four buttons.

PC World's Mac beat editor, Narasu Rebbapragada, took a first look at this new mouse. But being an input device maven, I wanted to add my two cents as well.

On the whole, this corded, USB mouse feels sturdy, works well, and has Apple's signature clean, streamlined look. Another plus: Its multidirectional scrolling works right out of the box, which is convenient. It's especially handy in image-editing applications.

But input devices are definitely not one-size-fits-all; individual physiology and preferred methods of interacting with a computer both factor into what is a personal choice. Apple has taken a step in the right direction by finally acknowledging that one button just doesn't cut it for many people, but stylish though it may be, the Mighty Mouse lags behind other multibutton mice in functionality and ergonomics. If you can, try before you buy. If you're near an Apple store, you can probably give the mouse a test drive there.

Touchy-Feely

I found the scroll ball a bit too sensitive. For example, in Mozilla Firefox, attempting to scroll to the bottom of a Web page often caused the browser to go back a page, just like pressing on the scroll ball does. Though you can adjust horizontal and vertical scrolling speed, adjusting the ball's pressure sensitivity is not an option.

Another little surprise in Firefox: Pushing the scroll ball to the right works like pressing the browser's Forward button, and pushing it to the left is equivalent to pressing the Back button. This is a bit surprising the first time it happens, but as with most input device behaviors, it's easy to get used to. Lots of multibutton mice include Forward and Back buttons, and at first I thought the Mighty Mouse did too. But on further investigation, this started to look like a bug, not a feature. For example, in other applications, including Apple's Safari browser, pushing the ball to the left caused sideways scrolling, not turning pages. In the end, the scroll ball behaved fairly consistently in Apple's applications, but unpredictably in third-party programs.

I was also underwhelmed by the Mighty Mouse software. By default, clicking on the right side of the mouse brings up the context-sensitive menu, just as if you'd Ctrl-clicked. But when you install the driver software, both sides are set to "primary button," rather than primary button and secondary button. Another oversight in the driver is the lack of a "return to defaults" option. If you can't remember how the buttons were originally set up, you'll have to check the manual. What I really miss is the scroll-lock function that lets you click the scroll ball and then drag the mouse to scroll quickly or slowly through a document; this isn't a configurable option.

As Narasu said in her review, squeezing the buttons on the side simultaneously (known as "chording") isn't very comfortable. The buttons are placed too low on the mouse and require too much pressure; you don't have to press very hard, but the angle makes it difficult. It puts unnecessary strain on the wrist.

The small size of the scroll ball is nice; its low profile lets you rest your hand on the mouse, and it doesn't get in the way when you don't want to use it. But I tend to rely a lot on a scroll wheel, and mice with taller, more contoured shapes, like the ones in Wacom's Intuos line, feel more comfortable to me.

Trackballs (and the balls on old-fashioned mice) always get gummed up with dust and grease, and usually the ball is removable for cleaning--but the Mighty Mouse's scroll ball isn't. There is no information in the Mighty Mouse manual or on Apple's site about cleaning the mouse, but according to Macworld, Apple's advice is to dab the ball with a moistened cloth.

The Mighty Mouse is quite attractive, much more so than a lot of trackballs, and people with small hands may find it very comfortable to use. But I'm going to stick with my big black Contour Rollermouse--it's what works best for me.

Current: A Window on Your Work

Last month I evaluated DevonThink, the first in a series of freeform databases I've been trying, in the hope that one can make me organized and help unclutter my desk. Lately I've been working with a slick-looking US$50 package called Current, from Near-Time.

Current's default interface looks something like a browser window; in fact, Current has an address bar at the top and you can browse Web pages within the program. The main page organizes your documents in blocks with labels such as "Active" and "Unread." A column on the left provides a summary of what's in your data store, quick-start tips, and a glossary that defines terms used in the program.

Having the quick-start tips right on the home page encouraged me to browse through and quickly get acquainted with the program's tools, and the glossary helped me understand the difference between Spaces and Views (they're both ways of organizing content, but you set up Spaces yourself, and Views are dynamically generated). The glossary wasn't as complete as I would have liked, though. Sometimes I had to go into the Learning Guide to find out what a feature did, and sometimes I didn't find it at all.

While the home-page-style summary gives you a good top-level view of what's in your document store, for most of us it's an unfamiliar way to look at our work. If you don't find the browser-style summary of your data store useful, you can see a list of your documents by clicking the Pages button in the menu bar. You get a paned window with a documents list at the top and a preview of the selected document at the bottom. Leaving the drawer open lets you switch among Spaces and Views quickly. I found this to be the most familiar and efficient way to work.

Get Smart

One handy feature is Smart Views, which lets you set up your own customized searches of your data store, based on criteria such as a keyword or a date range. These appear next to the application's preset Views, which include Most Active and Unread.

A database like Current is only as useful as the content you put into it, so in addition to being easy to browse and search, it has to be easy to populate. While Current is on par with the other programs I've used so far, it wasn't completely effortless to get information into it.

If I'm clipping content from another source while researching, I usually want to drag and drop it directly into my repository, and I couldn't always do that with Current. It was easy to drag and drop Web pages from Safari, but not from Firefox (my browser of choice). And Current allows easy importing from Apple's Mail client, but not from Mozilla's Thunderbird. Frustratingly, the "Gather Into Current" command that works in Mail and Safari doesn't work in Microsoft Word, so you can't grab a fragment of text and quickly send it to Current.

Like DevonThink, Current is primarily about managing text. When I tried to import the data in a spreadsheet, I ended up with a link to the spreadsheet document.

I also couldn't indent multiple lines at a time on a Current page, or make a table, but I could copy an outline and a table from Word into the program. Outlines and tables are major planning tools for me, so I think they really should be incorporated into Current's text editor. They'd be much more useful than the ability to style my text with a drop shadow.

Current is the smaller, single-user sibling of Flow, a workgroup collaboration and document management tool. And as such, Current inherits some useful content-management tools, including archiving versions of your documents, so you can see earlier iterations--as long as you remember to use the Archive button to save a version. An Info pane shows metadata about your document such as Authors, Readers, and Emailers. But viewing all the authors of a document is less useful in this single-user program; presumably it isn't hard to track who's written or modified a document in a data store that you're not sharing with others.

Once you do have documents in the program, you can add comments to text, and you can mark it up with a variety of flags, such as To Do, Approved, or Question. The text is searchable by these marks, and you can edit the markers and add your own.

You can set up Current as your RSS reader and use it as your blog-authoring application. If you've used another remote blog editor, you should have no problem using Current: The controls work much the same.

Current's search function has lots of options. You can the explore the Web, your RSS feeds, or your documents using a wide range of criteria including the date modified or a marker. Unfortunately, Current didn't do what I needed it to, which was to narrow my results by searching within a search, nor did it show me my search term in the hits it returned. So it was hard to home in on the bit of information I really wanted.

Current sure makes nifty-looking To Do lists, and I found its navigation and version-tracking tools useful. But importing data should be more flexible, and I'd like to see a lower price. With its better search engine and $40 price tag, DevonThink Personal seems like a better deal.