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Microsoft’s Touch Mouse has a fatal flaw that didn’t show up when I wrote last month’s review: it chews through batteries.

After six weeks use, I’m now on my sixth pair of AA batteries. That’s unacceptable.

The mouse came with a pair of Energizer batteries in the box. I picked up a pack of 10 Duracell batteries at the same time. The last pair of batteries are now in the mouse.

I’ve spent long hours at the computer in recent weeks working on a couple of big projects, certainly more than 12 hours a day for six days a week. That shouldn’t make any difference.

Touch Mouse battery killer

In contrast, the batteries in my Microsoft Wireless Mouse 5000 last for about three months – that’s roughly 12 times as long as in the Touch Mouse.

One possibility is the batteries are all duds.

To be fair to Microsoft, I’ve not been good at using the switch on the bottom of the mouse to turn it off when I’m not using my computer.

This is hard to remember and, frankly, it shouldn’t be necessary. A well-designed mouse should do a better job of managing power consumption.

Until I hear otherwise, I’m calling this a design flaw. A serious one.

Rechargables? While I’m a big fan of rechargeable batteries, I’ve found them a problem with mice and keyboards, they fade ridiculously fast and I learnt the hard way a low-charge, but seemingly functional battery in a mouse is a fast route to sore wrist and arm muscles.

Set aside some time if you plan to switch to Microsoft’s Touch Mouse. While you’ll need to adjust to the way it works, it is well worth the effort. Don’t install it and hope for the best if you’ve a deadline to meet. 

Microsoft Touch Mouse
Microsoft Touch Mouse

Touch is the technology of the moment. Apple’s iPad, other tablets and smartphones all replace traditional interfaces with touch-based gestures. It makes them easier to use on the run, but touching a screen isn’t the same as working a mouse.

Although desktops and laptops already offer touch screens, Microsoft Windows still works best with a mouse.

Microsoft’s Touch Mouse adds some of the advantages of touch screens to everyday Windows 7 PCs. That is not a huge step forward, but it does improve day-to-day computer use.

Simple to install and start

There’s a microscopic USB wireless dongle in the Touch Mouse box. This plugs directly into a laptop USB port. Microsoft thoughtfully includes an extension cable for when the distance between the USB on a floor-standing PC and the mouse is too far for good wireless contact. I found this worked fine on my system, but I did better still by using the USB port built-in to my monitor’s stand.

There was no software rigmarole, nothing to load, nothing to configure, just a wait of a minute while the driver installed. You can fool around with settings later if you want.

Smarter than your average mouse

Microsoft’s Touch Mouse is slightly smaller than a conventional desktop mouse. Instead of the scroll wheel and buttons, the front half of the top is a large touchable surface.

You can use it just like an ordinary mouse to move a cursor around the screen. You move a single finger up and down the touch area to scroll a page up and down screen. Likewise a left to right movement will pan the screen left to right. A flick moves the screen all the way in the indicated direction. These gestures quickly become as natural as everyday mousing.

Dodgy thumb gestures

I had more trouble adjusting to the thumb gestures and those using two or three fingers. An hour after starting I was still struggling with some gestures and even now they don’t feel natural – maybe that will change.

The mouse is sensitive enough to work exactly as expected, it doesn’t misinterpret minor fidgets as intentional gestures. The setting is spot on and nicely responsive.

It takes time to get used to Microsoft’s Touch Mouse, I’m still not there, but it has displaced the Windows Mouse 5000 as my rodent of choice.

Final points

Microsoft’s list price for the Touch Mouse is NZ$109, but I’ve seen it advertised for almost half that price and mainstream stores sell it for around NZ$75.

One last thing, the Touch Mouse is the nicest looking mouse I’ve seen in a long time and that includes the fancy designer mice that were fashionable a few years back.

A paperless journalist needs a good scanner.

I picked a Canon Lide 210, a simple flat-bed scanner. It isn’t coupled with a printer as part of a multifunction device and it doesn’t do film strips or slides. There isn’t an automatic sheet feeder.

None of these features would be of use to me. I want bare-bones scanning and that’s what I have. I want high quality scanning. Canon delivers with a vengeance.

High resolution scanning

The 4,800 dot per inch resolution is possibly overkill for day-to-day journalism work. I mainly scan printed documents and a lower resolution will do, but the quality looks so good I tend to leave them in the higher quality format. The files are bigger, but disk storage costs next to nothing and there’s little processing to slow things down.

Having higher resolution is useful when I want to select small areas from a document or photograph.

Installation is simple. It took less than five minutes from opening the box to getting my first scan. The hardest part was connecting the stand to the scanner so it can sit upright on my desk.

Optical character recognition

The Canon Lide 210 scanner comes with optical character recognition software. While this is a plus, OCR not much use to me. Most of my scans go to Microsoft OneNote 2010 which has built-in OCR and I use Nuance’s Paperport and Omnipage which also do a great OCR job. In testing Canon’s OCR worked well – it was flawless with some basic documents I threw at it. But the OCR tools I already have are good too.

Being able to scan direct to PDF is useful – a feature that often saves me a step.

Scanning is easy. There are five buttons on the front of the scanner so you can insert a document and send it directly to various applications. Sometimes you need to scan from inside applications – there are drivers to work with Photoshop or Fireworks. In practice the upright position is fine for single pages, but the flatbed scanner needs to sit flat when scanning from magazines or books.

Forced upgrade

I was annoyed I had to buy a new scanner. My old scanner, a Canon FB630U, works perfectly well. However, I recently upgraded my desktop and there are no drivers for the scanner to work with 64-bit Windows 7. So built-in obsolescence forced me to buy a new scanner.

I tricked the FB630U into working with 32-bit Windows 7 using a compatibility mode. It isn’t possible to do the same thing with 64-bit Windows 7. Workarounds look time-consuming.

Hardware is cheap and time is money, so I made the economically rational decision to buy a new scanner.

I feel guilty about sending something that still works to the landfill. That’s just wrong.

Buying another Canon scanner

In the end choosing another Canon was the right decision. At first I didn’t want to give money to the company that didn’t bother to develop the drivers needed my old scanner current. On the other hand, Canon gear is good quality and price competitive. My previous scanner worked well for more than ten years, so I expect ten years from the new one.

The new scanner’s speed was instantly noticeable – scans take about 25% as long to complete with the Lide 210 when compared to the FB630U. Canon has dramatically improved its software – and its aesthetics. The old software was written for Windows 95 – at least that’s what it looks like. And the higher resolution is great.

Since Windows 95 I’ve partitioned my main drive into two virtual drives c: and d:. I put Windows and applications on the C: drive and store documents on the D: drive.

Separation means I’m left with completely intact data following a system or software meltdown.

I was going to write the word ‘always’ in that last sentence, but some apps insist on storing data in tucked away corners of the C: drive. In fact, this is even more common with Windows 7 than it was in earlier years.

Another advantage of my approach is my data backups are simple mirrors. No stuffing around with sorting files or compression, straight one-for-one copies.

In the next couple of days I’m upgrading to new Windows 7 system with a 1Tb hard drive.

My question is, do I stick with my tried and tested disk strategy or is it time to dump this approach and put everything on a single C: drive?