Microsoft Touch Mouse Review: Made for Multitaskers

Last Updated Aug 22, 2011 1:08 PM EDT

A mouse is a mouse is a mouse, right? Pretty much any mouse lets you left- and right-click, scroll through window, and point to things on the screen. What else could a mouse do? Microsoft's new Touch Mouse is pretty revolutionary by adding gestures that let you move documents around on the screen with a few simple swipes.

This is pretty radical, and takes some explanation, since you're not used to thinking about using a mouse in this way. But consider Windows 7: The new Aero Snap controls are seemingly designed for touch screens. Drag a window to the left, and it "snaps" to the left half of the screen. Drag a different window to the right, and it snaps to the other half of the monitor, making it easy to work with documents side-by-side. It would be great to drag those windows around with your fingers, but few of us have touch screens. So Microsoft apparently said, "Let's touch-enable the mouse instead."

To use the mouse, just swipe across the top of it with two fingers to the left or right, and windows automatically snap in place. Swipe up with two fingers to maximize a window. And there's more: Swipe up with three fingers, and you get a thumbnail view of all your open windows. Click one to switch to it. Swipe down with three fingers to minimize everything to the desktop. And brush upward with your thumb to go "back" in your browser.

The gestures turn the mouse into a whole different sort of rodent. They quickly become second nature, and I've found I use Snap even more than I used to for working with documents side by side and otherwise managing my desktop. It's a surprisingly effective productivity enhancer.

The mouse itself is an attractive bit of engineering. The entire unit floats on its base as one piece of plastic; there are no left and right buttons. There's no scroll wheel, either -- just a recessed line through the middle to indicate where the touch-sensitive scroll lies. It's wireless, of course, and comes with a tiny USB transceiver that's barely large enough to protrude from the USB port along with a USB extension cable in case you need to position the dongle closer to the desktop to make a solid wireless connection.

The mouse is small enough to go portable (and has a hidden recess to store the tiny wireless USB dongle). But I'll stick with the Arc Touch mouse for my laptop, since it's expressly designed for portability. The Touch Mouse sells for about $70 and has definitely earned a spot in my office -- it's a keeper.

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Dave Johnson was employed by Microsoft Corporation at the time this article was written.