Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical 1.1A review
Review date: Saturday 23rd October 2010
This is a review of the Microsoft five-button IntelliMouse Optical. In addition to the standard three buttons on a mouse (left, right, wheel/middle), the IntelliMouse Optical adds two side buttons that default to providing Back and Forward navigation in Explorer and Web browsers. This wired mouse, available in black and white colours with silver accents, supports USB and PS/2 connections.
- Wired mouse with optical sensor
- Five buttons including scroll wheel and two side buttons
- USB cable with passive PS/2 adapter
- Symmetric design
- Available in white or black, both with silver side buttons and highlights
- 400 DPI sensor, 9000 FPS tracking speed
This review relates to Microsoft Windows XP 32-bit, service pack 3, with the mouse connected via USB and not PS/2.
Once I decided that mouse gestures were worth investigating, it was soon clear that I needed to have systemwide mouse gestures, not just in Firefox. I soon located StrokeIt for this task: it gives you comprehensive mouse gesture control over your whole system. However, across the whole system, borrowing right-drag for gestures is awkward. IrfanView uses right-drag to scroll around an image. Some programs display a context menu after a drag to let you select what the drag should do (e.g. Move, Copy, or Create Shortcut Here), such as Windows Explorer and Outlook (more programs should support this). Although StrokeIt releases the mouse after it determines that your right-drag isn’t a gesture, having to wait a fraction of a second before a drag kicks in is tedious.
The only alternative was to purchase a five-button mouse. I tried the Microsoft Comfort Mouse 450 first but its smooth rotating scroll wheel was impossible to click reliably, and I use middle-click extensively. The Logitech Laser MX400 has a detented wheel but, as with the Comfort Mouse, has a tilting wheel and that also makes the wheel impossible to click reliably. I had to bite the bullet and purchase a five-pack of Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical (IMO) 1.1 mice, the product that was recommended to be by friends.
I was using gestures for back and forward, as instigated by Opera, but soon realised that using the buttons as they were intended—as Back and Forward—was easier, and since StrokeIt doesn’t interfere with straight clicks, I could still have gestures for the likes of minimise, maximise/restore, and close window.
Since they are still on the market, I thought I’d give prospective buyers a breakdown of the mouse. Until now, I never installed the drivers, although I did receive the driver CD in the box, which is more than I can say for the Comfort Mouse 4500 where even Microsoft decided that nobody needed drivers for a mouse1. All five buttons work correctly out of the box in Windows XP and Mac OS X has no problems recognising five-button mice either, although I immediately map additional buttons to Exposé functions without caring whether they work in common Macintosh Web browsers. However, I have discovered that IntelliPoint does give you accelerated wheel scrolling.2
Note that the side buttons are silver but the flash causes them to look plain grey.
- Best extra button placement — This is still by far the best thought out placement and design of buttons four and five. Left-handed users are not disadvantaged as the mouse is symmetrical (also true of the Comfort Mouse 4500 which also has one button on each side), and people with smaller digits or who hold the mouse further back won’t find them a stretch to reach, as the buttons are as generously sized as the regular left and right buttons. Some mice place both buttons under the thumb, which means that you have to reach over one to get to the other, which I find unnecessarily awkward.
- Easy middle clicks — The scroll wheel can be clicked very easily and reliably. This may not seem to a be point worth mentioning but it’s not uncommon for mice now to have tilt wheels and smooth rotating wheels that make middle click almost impossible. The Logitech Laser MX400 for example simply doesn’t register most wheel clicks, and the Comfort Mouse 4500 registers them but the wheel is just as likely to rotate as it is to click when pressed, as there are no detents to hold it in place while you apply pressure. A friend with a MX400 found that with practice he could get the hang of middle click, though.
- High grip wheel — The most difficult problem with a Dell Basic Optical Mouse is that the wheel is so smooth that in summer months when your fingers are sweaty, you cannot grip it. The IMO wheel has a deep ridged pattern across its surface to ensure good grip at all times. The surface of the whole mouse is also textured plastic for a good grip.
- Size — The mouse has a tall and bulky size and feels a little heavy. Whether you prefer small or tall mice is of course down to personal preference. I am not terribly bothered and it makes other mice feel small and flat in comparison. But then, I have relatively large hands.
- Very bright tail light — The purposeless tail light on the mouse is very bright, albeit pretty.
- Black mice only available in packs of five — The only way to purchase a black IMO 1.1 is in a pack of five. The IMO is also available in packs of three but I would stay clear of those as they’re the older version 1.0 with an inferior tracking sensor. White mice though are available singly. The version number is curiously not printed on the mouse like it is with other Microsoft mice.
- Slow cursor speed — Every mouse moves the cursor at a different speed; the IMO has exceptionally slow movement, and requires the pointer speed slider setting to maximum in the Mouse control panel to get behaviour comparable to a “regular” mouse. This ageing mouse appears designed for older 800×600 and 1024×768 displays. This may relate to the 400 DPI of the sensor but I do not know. IntelliPoint does not improve on this situation.
- Ghost activity — I find commonly on both my home and work PCs (32-bit Windows XP) that the IMO moves the cursor either horizontally or vertically by one pixel when you release the left button after a drag. I have never seen this before on any other mouse, Apple, Logitech, Dell or Microsoft. I see this even with the pointer speed at 50%. At my request, Irfan Skiljan introduced much better cursor key selection manipulation into IrfanView, primarily to work around this problem. Also, the IMO has its own form of the ghost wheel behaviour I saw with the classic ball IntelliMouse, where random scroll steps are occasionally issued. This occurs far less frequently than my ball IntelliMouse, but I have never had it happen with a Dell mouse of any kind.
- Ratchety scroll wheel — Given that Microsoft popularised the scroll wheel, they do a very bad job of designing them. The IMO has a typical modern Microsoft scroll wheel which, despite the good grip, has a very noisy and harsh detent mechanism that feels and sounds like it came out of the late 1800s.
- Sharp moulding edges — This is a minor nit, but the plastic mouldings have sharp edges. This is most noticeable in the side button recesses where your thumb rests. More care could have been taken here.
My previous mouse at home was a black, “Dell by Microsoft”-branded PS/2 IntelliMouse 1.3A (A indicates OEM) that had good tracking speed and reliability, responsive buttons, and a smooth wheel feel. It was suffering microswitch wear like any mouse that’s been used for a few years, but I was very happy with it and only replaced it to get the extra buttons. It feels small and flat now compared to the bulk of an IMO, but otherwise it was a superior product, with its only disadvantage being the need to clean the rollers periodically.
My previous work mouse was a Dell Basic Optical Mouse. This itself wasn’t that great, as the smooth wheel was too hard to grip in the summer with sweaty fingers. It was, otherwise, though, a rock solid product, albeit even flatter than the original IntelliMouse. Being a Dell mouse it didn’t suffer from the ghost behaviour seemingly inherent with Microsoft’s mice.
There is a lot of room for improvement with the IntelliMouse Optical, but I don’t see this happening. Microsoft appear to have discarded their thoughtful button layout in favour of small, fiddly, unreachable buttons, designs that make little sense given that the left and right buttons on any mouse are themselves large and easy to hit for good reason. To my surprise I find that the slow speed of the mouse doesn’t really interfere with using it on a 2560×1280 desktop (dual 17″ displays) but that may because I find moving a mouse sideways easier than moving it vertically. I am not anticipating a 1.2 release of this product, though.
I have one mouse left out of the pack of five, but I think I may keep that as a spare as they’re known for wearing out prematurely. This is sad, because I have a Microsoft Stupidomouse (like an IntelliMouse but without the wheel) connected to my Motorola Macintosh clone (it has PS/2 ports) and despite its apparent age it still works as well as it would have done the day it was made. It does, however, move the cursor in 1.5 pixel increments (alternating steps of 1 and then 2 pixels) which may relate to it being a “foreign” mouse to Mac OS.
For people wanting additional buttons, I would recommend the IntelliMouse Optical with reservation. I recommend it on the strength of its design, but otherwise it is rather lacking and if you have good thumb control and don’t mind both extra buttons on the same side, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
- The drivers for the Comfort Mouse and other mice can, according to the packaging, be found at microsoft.com\hardware\downloads [sic].
- IntelliPoint introduces a bug of its own where middle click is ignored when it immediately follows a wheel rotate. Using a rotate then middle click to switch tab in Firefox and close the tab you were on, fails to close as the middle click is dropped. I have uninstalled IntelliPoint and replaced it with ScrollNavigator3, which is itself not without problems due to the way that different programs handle the scroll wheel! A tinkerer is cursed to forever tinker…
- I have since abandoned ScrollNavigator due to a combination of application incompatibility (too many programs don’t read the system scroll wheel line count and hard code in a value of three lines) and an unhelpful and unwilling developer.