Get in the gesture groove with the Microsoft Touch Mouse

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shares his experiences using the Microsoft Touch Mouse.

Back in June in the blog post titled "Windows 8 Touch Screen Interface and the Microsoft Touch Mouse," I speculated that Microsoft designed the Touch Mouse as a transitional device to help Windows users start moving away from using a mouse-controlled, user interface to using a gesture-controlled, touch-screen interface, which will be the centerpiece of Windows 8. At that time, the Microsoft Touch Mouse was not yet available, and the company was promising a summer 2011 release.

Well, I recently got my hands on a Touch Mouse, and after using it for a couple of weeks, I definitely feel like it is helping me to get into the groove when it comes to using gestures to maneuver about in Windows 7. So much so, that I actually feel like I will be able to effectively use Windows 8's touch-based user interface when it arrives.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll share with you my experiences using the Microsoft Touch Mouse. To accompany this article, I've also created a photo gallery showing the unboxing of the Touch Mouse and giving you an initial look this new input device.

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A closer look

To begin with, the Microsoft Touch Mouse is designed specifically for Windows 7. It carries a suggested retail price of $79.95, but you can get one from an online retailer for anywhere from $60 to $65.

The surface of the Touch Mouse, shown in Figure A, is populated with a multitude of sensors that are designed to track movement of your fingers and allow you to take advantage of Windows 7's touch-based, user interface features. You can use one-, two-, and three-finger gestures, which I'll discuss in more detail in a moment. There's even a gesture for your thumb.

Figure A

The surface of the Touch Mouse is populated with a multitude of touch sensors, and there are no discernable buttons.

Powered by two AA batteries, this mouse features an on/off switch so that you can save battery power by turning off the mouse when you are not using it. Just turn the mouse over and flip the switch.

As you move the mouse, the proprietary BlueTrack Technology can read the surface it is rolling over at up to 8,000 frames per second and has a top speed of up to 72-inches per second. This provides extremely smooth movement on just about any surface that you can imagine.

The mouse comes with a very small USB transceiver, as shown in Figure B. The system works best if the transceiver and mouse are in a fairly direct line of sight. To facilitate this type of arrangement for those of us who have a tower system under the desk, the package includes a 60-inch USB cable complete with a Velcro attachment on the end, making it easy to attach the USB jack and transceiver to something on top of your desk.

Figure B

The USB transceiver is extremely small.

Making the connection

As soon as you connect the transceiver to a USB port, Windows 7 begins downloading and installing the drivers, and within a few moments the mouse is ready to use.

However, this initial mouse driver will provide you with only basic functionality until you install the IntelliPoint 8.2 software, which is required for full functionality. Unfortunately, I wasn't prompted to install the IntelliPoint software when I connected the transceiver as I had expected. The first page in the setup guide states "If you are not prompted to install the software when you plug in the transceiver, go to www.microsoft.com/hardware/downloads."

When I accessed the site, the IntelliPoint 8.2 software was easy to find and download, but it would have been a much more satisfying experience if I had been taken to the download page automatically.

The tutorial

As soon as the software installation is complete, you are taken right into an interactive tutorial that teaches you how to use the gestures. The tutorial is self-paced, and you can repeat each section as many times as you like.

To begin, you learn about the three-finger gesture, as shown in Figure C, which will allow you to show the desktop as well as initiate the Instant Viewer — a feature that displays thumbnails of all open windows on the desktop, as shown in Figure D. The two-finger gestures allow you to maximize and minimize windows as well as snap windows to the edges of your screen via the Windows Snap feature. The one-finger flick lets you scroll, pan, and tilt when working with documents or graphic images. Using the thumb gesture will allow you to move backward or forward through a Web browser or a picture viewer.

Figure C

The interactive tutorial will have you up and running with the gestures in no time at all.

Figure D

The Instant Viewer displays all open windows as thumbnails.

Using the mouse

While you can use the Touch Mouse alongside a regular mouse to ease the transition, I decided to unplug my Microsoft Optical mouse and totally immerse myself in using the Touch Mouse. I am glad that I did because it made getting used to the new paradigm easier. It took a little while to adapt, and at the beginning it was a bit awkward at times, but it soon becomes second nature.

For example, I can compare the experience of getting used to gestures to getting used to my first wheel mouse — it didn't take long and I soon couldn't live without it. I've found the gestures very intuitive, and I have easily become very accustomed to using them.

The Touch Mouse is smaller than a standard mouse, and it fits in the palm of your hand very comfortably. It is bit heavier than a standard mouse, but it has a nice solid feel to it. While it will take a few minutes to get used to the smaller size and weight, once you begin using it, you won't really notice it anymore.

If you look back at Figure A, you'll see that there are no discernable buttons on the mouse, but clicking on the left or right side of the mouse works just like the buttons on a regular mouse. The straight line at the top center of the mouse essentially replaces the wheel for scrolling — you just move one finger up or down to scroll.

By default, the Touch Mouse is programmed for right-handed users, but you can easily reorient the mouse for left-handed use from the Buttons and Touch tabs of the Mouse Properties dialog box, as shown in Figure E. As you can see, you can also disable various touch functions if you wish.

Figure E

You can configure the touch-based features from the Touch tab of the Mouse Properties dialog box.

What's your take?

Are you interested in taking advantage of Windows 7's touch-based features with the new Touch Mouse and its gestures? Are you already using the Touch Mouse? If so, how has your experience been? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

If you want to see the Touch Mouse in action, check out CNET's Video Review.

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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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