I like gaming mice, as you may have noticed. I’ve been using gaming mice for at least five years after being dragged back into PC gaming, and I haven’t looked back since. But after a demo Microsoft had for their upcoming Touch mouse, I may just go back to a standard mouse for computing.

The Microsoft Touch Mouse is not particularly special upon first glance. It has only the two main buttons – no scroll wheel, no middle mouse button, no thumb buttons. It is ambidextrous, but without anything on the sides, that hardly matters. It also only has a DPI range of 1000. But if you look closely at the top (below picture), you’ll see a series of X’s and dots that outlay the special feature of the Touch Mouse: a touch-sensitive region.

This area, which covers 60% of the mouse from the top, uses capacitive touch technology to register multitouch gestures. Best known currently on smartphones, capacitive touchscreens have typically been glass, but the technology doesn’t need a glass surface. Microsoft opted against a glass surface because, as anyone with a touchscreen phone has learned the hard way, the glass becomes abrasive with excess heat, and having a mouse becoming uncomfortable like this was out of the question.

There are about nine current functions of the touch features on this mouse, including taking the place of thumb buttons and the scroll wheel. And like some current trackpads, momentum scrolling (scrolling up or down hard, causing the page to continue scrolling after letting go) is also available, something I like very much after Logitech introduced frictionless scroll wheels. The thumb buttons are replaced with a swipe up or down with the thumb on the mouse’s side. To my knowledge, there is currently no middle mouse button, but I’ll update with a confirmation.

Other touch functions are specific to Windows 7. Two fingers controls specific windows. For example, a highlighted window can be maximized, minimized, or put to the right or left of the screen by swiping two fingers up, down, right or left, respectively. Three finger gestures control the entire desktop, so three fingers sliding up shows all open windows while three fingers sliding down cleans the desktop.

I tried out the Touch Mouse and it works flawlessly, albeit some of the Windows limitations may end up being frustrating and feeling outdated. In just seconds I was able to use all of the nine functions. It’s remarkably intuitive and simple, and the feel of the mouse is such that sliding one or more fingers up and down the capacitive surface is not bothersome in the slightest. I could easily see myself replacing my current mouse for this…of course, if I stuck with any one mouse.

The now-standard pinch-zoom function doesn’t work, as is true with most other touch gestures we’ve come to associate with cellphones and larger gesture-based devices. There’s nothing wrong with that though, because the mouse is a very different type of product. Zooming in and out is still based on holding down CTRL and scrolling, and I’m fine with that.

It’s also worth noting that because the Touch Mouse is made specifically for Windows 7 functions, it won’t work with Windows XP or Windows Vista. I guess that means I’ll have to upgrade my Vista desktop soon.

What I don’t particularly like is how the gestures only apply to highlighted windows. This is, of course, how Windows OS functions, though the growth in web-based applications and the importance and high-volume usage of web browsers has changed that. Many of us like being able to scroll through a page just by hovering the mouse over it and scrolling, without clicking on it. Ultimately, I believe the question of mouse hovering versus clicking is a matter of preference, though I prefer the former. Microsoft, the latter.

Still, the technology is fascinating, and I can’t wait to play around with it more. Even better, I can’t wait to see what the development community does with it once the mouse releases this May. Like Kinect, I have no doubt that we’ll see some incredible – and even more noteworthy, free – applications with a gesture-based mouse like the Touch Mouse. It should be great fun.

James Pikover

Spawned in the horrendous heat of a Los Angeles winter, James was born with an incessant need to press buttons. Whether it was the car radio, doorbells on Halloween or lights, James pushed, pressed and prodded every button. No elevator was left unscathed, no building intercom was left un-rung, and no person he’s known has been left un-annoyed.