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Your Next Pointer Device? 185

Anonymous Coward writes "Replacements for the rodent on your desktop are regularly being introduced. Here's yet another pointing device for you. A pen connected via radio to your PC. Movement is tracked by measuring the rolling of a small ball at the tip of the pen. This means it works on any surface. Take a look here. No Linux drivers yet, and I'll wait for the USB version. But I like the idea of a pen."
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Your Next Pointer Device?

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  • by waldoj ( 8229 ) <waldo&jaquith,org> on Monday November 22, 1999 @10:05AM (#1512106) Homepage Journal
    I've used pen devices. Granted, they were tethered, but the same problem applies: It's a pain in the ass to keep putting down and picking up a pen. Impractical for those of us that switch back and forth from the keyboard to the mouse frequently.
  • I don't know about anybody else, but I am ALWAYS misplacing my pens. :-)

    And if I write for a long time, I get cramps in my hand which are just as painful to me as RSI. I think I'll stick with my Logitech Trackman Marble Wheel. Since I got that here at work my wrists haven't bothered me one bit (except for when I fell on one, but I don't think I can blame that on the trackball).

    Real Purty, though. :-)
    -- I'm omnipotent, I just don't care.
  • Mac graphic artists have been using pens for years with their graphic tablets; I assumed these could be used as mouses as well.
    If I use anything other than a mouse, it's going to be a Twiddler []. Which is cooler than any mere pen, except possibly one that blows up when you click it three times.
  • I think the mouse is probably the best general purpose pointing tool. It's a simple device you can flop your hand on and shove around, and for general pointering (not a word, I made it up) its accurate enough. What this pen would be nice for is for artists and the like. People who do online comics is the first idea that comes to mind. Holding a pen isn't a relaxed enough motion for me to ever use it for general pointering. (there it goes again)

    Different tools for different tasks I guess. :)

    Regardless, I want one.

    kaniff -- Ralph Hart Jr
  • Geez, and I thought web sites that required javashit for navigation were lame. This one appears to require Shockwave, for God's sake. Or am I totally misinterpreting what that thingy on the left side is supposed to be?
  • I've read a review about these things in some computer magazine, can't remember which. they said they where a pain to operate because you had to press the pen down hard to get a good grip. so these things will make RSI even worse.

  • Not realy.

    As you say, there tablets, which by definition is a exacting pointing device. These replace mice, which are relative. Pick up your mouse and move it to another place on your desk. The pointer will jiggle when you put it back down, but it wont flt accrossd the screen like it would do with a puck/pointer and tablet.

    These look like they conbine the advantages of a pen/tablet (ease of use, ergonomic wise anyway) and a mouse (price, and relitivity (which in some cases is a good thing (though I cant think of any right now (actualy I can, fps games)))).

  • by Anonymous Coward
    With all the repetitive motion problems we're having, perhaps the best solution is a variety of pointing devices. When your mouse muscles start to ache switch to a pen pointer, or a touch screen, etc.
  • Well, my nifty new radio pen rolled off my slanted ergonomic desk (it didn't alert the computer to that fact by radio) and I rolled over its nice ergonomic surface with my ergonomic chair... erg!

    I lose pens unless I put them in my pen cup (an inconvenient place for a pointing device.) But my mouse always peeks out from beneath the junk piles on my desk, and its strung up by the tail to prevent it from straying too far.
  • Yuk...for general pointing use a pen would be awefully. The reason your hand gets cramped when you write a lot is because it is not normal to scrunch it up into the awkward position require to hold a pen. The mere awkwardness of having to /hold/ something to point would be annoying. A mouse just sits there...if I want to move it I move it. I don't haven to pick it up and then put it on some surface to make contact. A cylander is just too awkard to use except for activities that require micro-motor skills (writing). A pen is no good for macro-motor activities.
  • This is very similar to the Wacom [] tablets. They even have the cordless stuff available.

    Pen/tablet systems are great for artists, but a mouse is still better for general use. If you don't believe me, feel free to plunk down a hundred or so for a Wacom (already available with Linux drivers) and see for your self.

  • I absolutely adore my pen. I have a Wacom Artpad II tablet, and I just keep the pen in my left hand all the time, even while typing. It works quite well, and there is absolutely no matching it for accuracy at doing design work and drawing.
    On the other hand, I do have my mouse hooked up too, because pens just aren't as usable for applications like word processing where you don't use them much. And they are absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to use in fps games! Try it sometime, get into q3demo and try mousing around with a pen. It goes insane!
  • IF you like this idea, try this : 21596955211819&cd=OU202

    at only $18 and has DB9 connector, works for linux.

    Anyone know how to convert PC keyboards/mice for sun boxes???

  • Straight from the page:

    There were no repetitive strain injuries caused by the usage of the mouse until we got the PC.

    Um.. Well considering that when we got the PC, we got the mouse, I guess there weren't many mouse-related injuries...before the mouse. Ha!

    But seriously, this mouse could be sorta nice for basic computing but when it comes to gaming and stuff you'd just need a mouse, hands down. So I'm happy with a regular ol' IntelliMouse Pro from now on.
  • I use a Wacom PenPartner 4x5 tablet-and-cordless-pen myself, and it is MUCH better than using a mouse.

    I don't see that this pen would be an improvement over a conventional pen and tablet. If anything, I see these disadvantages:

    1. Since there is no tablet, this pen works in "Relative" mode only, like a mouse. So you have to keep picking up the pen and bringing it back to center to move a large distance. It's just as annoying as a mouse that way.

    2. The pens you use with most tablets do not actually touch the surface of the tablet unless you are left-clicking. With this you have to keep the ball rolling, so there's more friction (minute, but still there). Plus, clicking seems more like it would just be "pressing harder than you are now", which doesn't lend itself to great accuracy.

    It's a neat idea, but I'll keep my PenPartner.

    (Now if only there was support for it in gpm...)
  • ...a pen would be awefully. = ...a pen would be awful.

    I don't haven... = I don't have...

    A cylander is... = A cylinder is...

    Man I need to get more sleep...
  • As a sometimes graphic-artist (read: I doodle on PS in my spare time), I think this is a kickass innovation. The mouse, as a drawing tool, frankly, sucks ass. I can render a human figure in perhaps three minutes with a pen, but with a mouse it takes endless hours of correction to get it right. Forget about subtle things like shading/cross-hatching or anything remotely artistically complex. Mice STINK for drawing.

    Also lightpens are just as irritating, because if you don't maintain contact with the surface properly, you're screwed. I'd like to see something that's easy to control the motion of, like a pen. For most of you, precise control isn't that important - just gotta center the mouse on the button/url/whatever and click. If you want to draw a nice curve, though, mice are horrid and disgusting. I, for one, will buy this pen ASAP.

  • I have one of these on a shelf in my basement (this product has been around for about 8 years) and while it's an interesting novelty, I find it completely unusable. The problem is that it has a metal ball instead of a more grippy rubber one. This forces you to push down REALLY hard in order to make it work properly, which causes wrist pain after less than an hour.
  • Ya know how your hand hurts from clenching a mouse too much? Think how it will be to hold a pen all day.

    Touch screen would be a lot better. I don't know why they aren't more popular. You could use your finger for most things, like menus, resizing, moving windows. You would probably need a little pointer gizmo on a ring on the end of your finger for cut and paste, but it would be so easy to use, you'd forget you had it on.

  • People have complained for a long time pain due to holding writing implements. It's called writer's cramp [] Actually, I see the mouse as a more comfortable version of a pen. A mouse is intended to detect the large hand motions, without detecting the detail from precise positioning with the finger tips.

    Personally, I prefer my keyboard with the Touchpoint mouse in the middle. I don't have to use the large arm muscles to wave around a mouse or pen, and I don't have to move my hand away from the keyboard. The next best thing might be the foot-operated mice which have appeared on the market a few times...

  • Considering the affinity around here with FPS games like quake I am sure mice will continue to have a long life span.
  • Imagine picking up a pen every time you want to move your mouse pointer. The act of moving my right hand from keyboard to mouse and back is annoying enough. I would hate to have to actually pick something up and situate it in a proper writing grip.
  • Neat idea, but not really useful enough imho to become a Big Thing (tm). The big obstacle to more effective computing right now (especially in the light of the portable/handheld 'revolution' going on right now) is human interface. We should be looking for faster, more efficient ways to interface with our computers, if you think RAM is a bottleneck, think about physical interface :)

    What would not long ago have been considered high-end 3d technology (hardware in particular) is becoming more and more accessable for the home user. If I can play a high-demand game like quake2 in beautifully textured 3d space (complete with colored lighting, etc.) why can't my desktop and general interface with my 'puter look like that? The answer (again, imho) is the lack of a proper 3d interface device.

    The mouse only describes motion in a single plane. Until we can use something more intuitive for 3d interface, such as a cyberpunk-ish data glove, we will have to wait for more effective and intuitive interface (and i [think/hope?] we'd all agree that humans more intuitively deal with 3d space).

    Every time I read about someone trying to put together a 3d front-end for X, I look at the screenshots and what their goal is and think to myself "Wow, these guys are missing the point completely." A 2d window manager in 3d space is exactly what we *don't* need. There are larger issues under the surface here 'though, such as how we redefine interaction with the computer for 3 dimensions.

    That will have to wait for a device to do it with...


    Segmentation fault (core dumped)
  • Ever want to sign a death warrant? This pen is mighty as a BFG! Write off your opponents with the red ink of Epitaph USB. Or send them a loving billet-doux with our new Optical Double Cross(TM) arena version!
  • On the contrary, I think a pen would be awesome for drawing things on the computer!!! Actually, I agree that a pen would be really awkward to use for general things that the mouse is currently serving (ie. point-and-click operations). However, I've never been able to draw properly while holding a mouse... what would be really nice is to be able to switch between mouse and pen -- then you can still use the mouse for "courser" activities like point-and-click, and switch to a pen when in the GIMP or something, to get extra precision for sketching.

  • Touch screen would be a lot better. I don't know why they aren't more popular.

    Because supporting the weight of your arm for hours at a time, day after day, also causes problem. First you get very sore and cramped. If you manage to keep it up for weeks at a time you overdevelop a couple muscles in the arm - and end up unbalanced WRT the other arm.

    It's called "gorilla arm".

  • I love my Wacom tablet, though I won't be disconnecting my mouse anytime soon. Even though tablets are cool, it's hard to justify a full-blown tablet setup if you don't do much GIMP work. Now Wacom has introduced a nice USB combination tablet, Graphire [], which has both pen and cordless mouse input for the PC and Mac.

    It came out about a few months ago for $100 US ($75-$90 street price). It's a consumer-level product, not for hardcore GIMP, Photoshop or Painter users like the Intuos, which means it costs less and has less (a mere 1015 DPI) tablet resolution. The Wacom XInput page [] says it's supported, but I don't have one (yet) to test it. Check it out.

  • This may be useful to some people...
    But not me, I fear.

    I have used mice. Trackballs, touchpads, touch screens, and a joystick once or twice. I have navigated with the keyboard and with voice controls.

    All this crap, just because using a mouse is like pointing with a potato.

    You know what? I still use the mouse. It is universal, so I don't feel wierd when I go to someone else's desk. (I have one luser who insists on using a touchpad on his desktop PC :( )

    I hate to admit I like the mouse, but it is so useful in a basic sense that I would dread using anything else.

    It does look cool, though. And would almost be worth it for the shock value. :)
  • > Touch screen would be a lot better.

    As a carpal tunnel sufferer myself (recovering from the second half of the surgery, which was done on Friday) I just don't see touch screen ever catching on. It's a smaller area of contact, and I find that after about half an hour of using a touchpad my hand starts getting cramped and sore, mostly from the postion you have to hold your hand at for clicking. If you meant a touchscreen that was the monitor itself, it would involve too much holding the hand and arm at an unnatural position and place far too much strain on the shoulder and elbow to hold the hand/arm up to touch the monitor.

    My ideal input device at the moment is a trackball -- Kensington Orbit, to be precise; the things are beautifully designed and fit my hand perfectly -- but input devices are much more of an individual thing. There's far too much variation on hand side and shape to state that there is "One True Way". All of the ergonomic studies that I've seen state that a solution should be individually tailored and that any solution involving input devices should include frequent rest and occasional change-of-input-device to vary the stresses placed upon the hand and body.

    I can see the pen being a godsend for artists -- an artist friend of mine uses a tablet for her drawing, and she adores it -- but again, as a CTS sufferer, I couldn't use one. I haven't been able to hold a pen/pencil for about two years now, and don't expect that the surgery will radically change that.
  • Can somebody, please, find out this guy and, using a big stick, persuade him not to do this again?

  • Why can't people just use a hand operated one? The only way you could use anything acurately enough for finite motions like that would be if you had ballet lessons. There are certain activities that one cannot do if one is not endowed with ability and the use of various limbs. If you don't have eyes chances the possibility of effectively playing something like quake would be nil. Unless you have effective, subjective methods of auditory display. ex..

    You see someone off in the distance you pull your machine gun from it's strap. You fire into your enemy. He fills with bullets and then sinks to the ground in a pool of blood.
  • Sorry, but a pen just ain't gonna cut it when I'm skewering somebody with a railgun. I also have the nasty habit of slamming my mouse on the desk when i miss or get killed. I'd probably bust that pen. Even so, it could be used for games like Civ2 or AOE2...hmm...
  • As others said already, the idea of a pen-shaped pointer device isn't exactly new. This particular device seems to be different because a) it is wireless and b) uses an extremely small ballpoint.

    However, this pen has a big disadvantage like its predecessor - you have to pick it up, hold it and later lay it down while you use it. For people who touchtype, this is a very repetive (and thus over time more and more uncomfortable) task.

    A mouse or trackball does not require that you really have to pick something up, you just grab and move it. It's a tiny, yet important difference...

    Anyway, I am not sure if the current idea of a "modern ui", the user interface based on the movement of a pointer device that is used to navigate windows, pull-down menus etc., is *such* a great idea.

    Most computer-illiterate people still have problems to understand the metaphore and very complex software actually makes the use of a pointer device even less impractical than the proponents of the idea claim - don't say you've never spent minutes of idly clicking and searching through multiple levels of pull-down-menus?

    I am still hoping for a user interface that is completely different. Speech processing is good enough now and modern processors can handle it. When will there be the first true window-less, speech driven user interface? I can't wait to see it.

    "Computer: tea, earl grey, hot."

  • 1) Keeping your arm raised in front of you all day is tiring.

    2) You can't read a screen while it's covered by your hand and forearm.

    3) Fingers are too fat for fine-grained selection. (Your fingers may vary.)

  • Actually, this type of thing is nothing new. I got a pen-type thing back when I had an Apple //gs. It was a pain to use (had like a small ball in a box on the end, darn hatch kept popping off). On another note, I guess it really is a free pen... their online buying form doesn't have prices listed and amounts come up as 0.00.
  • They bill this device as allowing the user to "Avoid irritating and painful working postures." It seems that it would be just as bad for strain as any other hand controlled device when used for hours at a time.

    I'm holding out for retina controlled pointer devices. Or better yet - psychic!
  • Finally! A sight-driven cursor! I can tape this to the top of my head and look where I want to click. There'd have to be some sort of chin strap that could be used to push the buttons on the pen...... and some sort of pr0n mode where you can look at one thing and click something completely else.
  • I believe it was Ted Nelson that said something like, "Thousands of years ago, our ancestors discovered that it was much easier to draw with sticks than with rocks. The stick prevailed until just recently, when we inexplicably began to draw with rocks again." (bad paraphrase, I'm sure)

    He has a point. Sticks are easier, and allow you to input non-trivial things. Try feeding a handwriting recognition program or drawing a picture with a mouse.

    Pens can replace mice, but not vice versa. User interfaces that take advantage of this can be very powerful, but then the best user interface for things like browsing (where the chief function is selection of a specific area) is the touchscreen, which outside the PDA world has hardly taken off at all.

    I don't think it's going too far to say that it's the touchscreen feature of PDA's that makes them so darn easy, quick, and useful, and is largely responsible for thier success. Given that touchscreens and browsers work so well together, why don't we see the combination more often? (This raises interesting points for UI designers, who, whether they intend to or not, may wind up with something that looks very much like the heirarchical swooshes of the screens on Star Trek.)

    Since it's likely that there will be mutiple kinds of input devices in the future (I think touchscreens to augment mice are more likely than sticks, but I like sticks better than mice), UIs will have to take this into account.

    Other than the possible integration of character recognition, and the ability to more effectively use the display resolution (touchscreens have a notable weakness in that regard), what changes in UI would result from the widespread availability of sticks?
  • by Alton ( 80146 )
    More to the point, writers cramp has been around for centuries. The pen is no easier on your hand than the mouse is. The only real selling point here is that the pen is a more familiar tool for new computer users. The pen style interface is not new either. My Commodore 64 had a drawing program (Koala Paint I think) that came with a pen and a tablet. And that was in the early/mid '80s.

  • ...except that it's cordless.

    But my CalComp Creation Station is cordless, and batteryless, too (just like my old Wacom ArtPad II that croaked a few months back).

    And although I have severe RSI in my right wrist from past mousing, I get no pain from using the pen 10+ hours a day. My only complaint is that I have to keep putting down my pen to type on my shiny new Kinesis kbd (my employer likes to splurge on ergo stuff for me, I guess).

    Y'know, I still don't know why I can't get a workstation built like the helm on NCC1701D. The touchpanel tech is available...the screen tech is available...just drop a keyboard on the thing for tactile feedback and I'd be going to town. Instead, we seem to be stuck in this paradigm of keyboard/pointing device/monitor as separate units.

    Hell, I don't even need the tactile feedback, just a few "home row" depressions/bumps so I know where to start...
  • This is cool but i Need a tablet to go with (or without) it. Any suggestions? I want to run Linux on a Tablet or wearable, but it needs to have a reasonable display (prefer touch screen...). Networking will be teathered. Industrial applicaton... Thanks for any suggestions.
  • I got a cross pen tablet about three years ago. Although at first I was VERY happy with it, I soon became frustrated. 1: it does something really weird to the com port and ties it up. 2: My Ricochet interfered on RF frequency with it. 3: after about 3 months it started to skip around. I would go into photoshop and press down witht he pencil tool in the same spot. I got marks ALL over the screen. 4: No linux support.
    I guess the tech just wasn't ready yet.
    Interestingly, I never noticed a problem with switiching from mouse to keyboard. What I am waiting for is retinal tracking or whatever. Where you look and the mouse follows and you do something (stopping down the pupil? blowing in a tube?) to make it click.
    Another posibility could be those little things that quadraplegics use to move the wheelchair around. I just don't want to use my hands at all!
  • I still think that a touch sensitive monitor is a better idea. Obviously, current GUI designs wouldn't work very well with this method (buttons would be too small to accurately press sometimes), but you really can't beat it for simplicity. There's no external device to lose, and you couldn't possibly make it any easier to use. (Try watching a child or elderly person use a mouse for the first time. It's very frustrating watching them mis-click nearly every time.)

    Biggest problems with touch monitors that I can see:
    Shoulder pain from reaching over your desk
    Smudges/fingerprints all over!

    The shoulder pain from reaching can be fixed by making monitors closer, and possibly lower. Maybe slant them backwards a bit, making them more like an interactive keyboard. The smudges I have no good solution for. (Well, other than wearing gloves.)
    In the end, you'll still need a mouse/trackball for games.
  • We should be looking for faster, more efficient ways to interface with our computers, if you think RAM is a bottleneck, think about physical interface

    I find that there is an easy solution to the aforementioned "problem" - shell scripting. That's the idea behind automation; if you need to do something repetitively schedule the job and have the computer execute the task for you. I've also found that I know my setup well enough to be much much faster then the computer can respond; sometimes I can be as much as a second or two in front of the computer. And when I'm on old hardware.....

    and i [think/hope?] we'd all agree that humans more intuitively deal with 3d space

    Perhaps, but I would not want to deal with a computer workspace in 3 dimensions. I find that with two dimensions, I can't misplace anything, whereas my desk is a mess of papers. Whenever I need to find something, I have to hunt to find that one paper buried under all the others. I really would not want to deal with that on a computer. At least I can find everything fairly quickly on my system.

    Hell, REAL hackers use the command line. :-) GUIs are for wussies...

    Jonathan Wang

  • Hey, here's and idea:
    We could combine the pen and touch screen, so folks could just write where they need the information input- no more relative position of the pointer. To combat the problem of raising your arm out at an oblique angle (not too good ergonomically, is it?) have the monitor screen in the desktop horizonally, or angled well away from the user like a drawing board. I like my mouse too- but i have a problem with the vertical screen. Just my two bits
  • A couple of problems spring to mind quickly: 1. Since the pen has the same type of ball as a normal mouse does, it should in theory gather dirt in the same manner. However, in this case, the ball is so very small that I wonder if cleaning would even be a remote possibillity. Perhaps a pen mouse with an electronic eye (such as the MS Explorer mouse). 2. The ball being so small would seem to cause problems. Wouldn't you have to either adjust the thing to be supersensative or go all the way around your house to move around your desktop. I suspect they would almost certainly have to do the former, and that could cause some annoying uncalled for mouse movements. Just my $.02
  • flop your hand on and shove around

    "No time for sex tonight, gotta get a first post."

    Did anyone else grimace when they saw those two excerpts?

    Jonathan Wang

  • There were no repetitive strain injuries caused by the usage of the mouse until we got the PC.
    Gee who'd a thunk that... there probably weren't too many car accidents before the invention of cars either.

    Three programmable buttons make it easier and quicker to use the Internet
    That'll go perfectly with my P-III.

    Conscience is the inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking.

  • Try selecting a currency first (top left select list) to see prices. If I recall it's about US$70
  • It's funny how when an article about a pen as an input device comes up, the first thing that leaps to peoples' minds is that it'll replace the mouse (or that it won't replace the mouse.)

    What it could also manage to replace is the keyboard. Afterall, keyboards are used mainly for inputting text, which is what pens are also for in the analog world.

    I mean, to me, if you're going to replace the mouse, with a pen, you should replace the keyboard with it too. I don't know about you guys, but my mouse is posistioned to the right of my keyboard. It would be very awkward if I had to reach to the right and angle my wrist whenever I wanted to point. Of course, if you get rid of the keyboard, you have a lot of free space in front of you.

    My guess is, however, that none of these newfangled input devices will take off, at least not for PCs, and not for a long time. We're getting to the point where the average person can probably type faster than they can write, and I've never heard anybody complain about mice being too hard to use.

    Plus, mice work fine as they are. The new MS mouse works on any surface. I'm using a fairly cheap Genius NetMouse without any special surface (using my wooden desk, no mousepad) and it works fine. I don't use it for gaming, but for ordinary navigation, it's great.

    I don't really see why people are going through all the effort. I think I remember seeing something on TV that lets you navigate with your eyes... just silly stuff. The mouse does its job well. If that isn't cool enough for you, voice recognition is rapidly becoming more viable. I'll still be sticking with a classic keyboard/mouse combo.

  • Our friends at Microsoft came up with one of those not too long ago. An "improved" optical mouse actually - since it does not require a special mouse pad/tablet unlike the competition.

    No idea about Linux usuability but in theory it should work since it's a PS2 mouse.
  • I don't think this would solve you're problem. This pen would still operate in relative mode. Definitly counter intuitive if you are expecting it to act like a real pen. Something like crosshatching would require a rapid application of downward force, movement, then release, the movement and so on, all the while maintaining contact with the desk. I don't think drawing with this device will be significantly easier than a mouse, although small precise movements might be easier.
  • I'll never go back to mice etc. now that I've used a TrackPoint. And I can explain my reasons in two words:

    Home Row.

    And TrackPoints don't have that irritating accidental-thumb-drop problem that plagues touch pads.

    IBM input hardware kicks butt. Again.

  • I know Microsoft makes an optical mouse [] that doesn't require a gridsheet. (Yes, their software sucks, but their hardware isn't half bad)

    Jonathan Wang

  • One advantage us lefties have had in this harsh and cruel right-handed centric world has been the keyboard-- most of the best letters are located on the left side of the keyboard, giving us a slight advantage. MEanwhile, our less-used right hand slips over to the mouse (and can hit the number-pad Enter button with ease from there). This gives us a wonderful interface. Now they want to take our good hand away and place it on a pointing device and force our weaker hand to use the keyboard? P'shaw. I'll stick with the mouse.
  • I know most of you probably use gamepads for 1st person shooters, but as far as I am concerned you can't beat the free-mouse look in games like QuakeII, Unreal, and Half-Life. I don't think apen would work quit as well. Still, sounds niffty and all, but I think i will stick with the good ol desk rodent.
  • A camera that sits on top of your computer (like a web cam, but most likely higher quality and greater refresh) that TRACKS YOUR EYES.

    Where your eyes move over the screen, the camera tracks the movement and moves the cursor to where you are focussing. If you change position in your chair, you can quickly "refocus" the device by training it with a physical mouse. (ie: if you move around too far, you will lose your connection, and have to retrain the camera by moving the mouse around with your hand and following the cursor with your eyes) Smarter versions of the camera will tolerate a greater movement of the viewer.

    This device would be lightning quick, and let you operate the pointer while having BOTH HANDS on the keyboard.

    I would imagine that games would also be enhanced, for example playing quake!

    Ok.. so who's gonna build me one of these?!
  • I think you're talking about the Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer []. It's an optical mouse that doesn't use a special pad - it actually has a little camera that takes about 1500 pictures a second and compares one with the next in order to determine how it's tracking.

    It's actually a USB mouse, but there is a PS/2 adapter that comes with it.

    It works pretty well for day to day tasks, but it does have drawbacks. You can't use it on glass or reflective surfaces (despite this, the in-store displays they shipped have it sitting on a mirror), and doesn't work well on repeating textures like halftone prints. It also doesn't work very well on the hardtop type mouse pads. It works best on hard woodgrain slightly textured surfaces in my experience.

    There seem to be a few manufacturing defects in the first generation of them (the ones out right now). A lot of people are complaining that the left button malfunctions frequently - double clicking where you meant to click and hold, and dropping stuff as you click and drag around.

    It's also not the best mouse ever for gaming. It seems that you can move it too fast and it loses track of where it is - really bad if you want to suddenly spin and blast the person you hear sneaking up behind you in Quake III.

    Otherwise, it's a pretty decent mouse. I'm willing to bet that within a year or two or so most mice will be based on this idea rather than ball type. I'm personally going to wait a bit before shelling out the cash for one (the one I used was a friends). By that time the technology will have overcome the shortcomings (I hope, I'm sick to death of cleaning out all the negative karma built up on the rollers of my mice).
  • I use a kensington expert mouse - Anything else just doesn't compare if you have to point to something (I prefer keyboard overall) []

    1. It's the best for games (like centipede all over again)

    2. It's got 4 programable buttons

    3. You use your hole hand instead of a thumb, or a wrist - each finger independantly - cuts down on hand cramp.

    4. Really small footprint, and I don't have to clear a space for it when I want to use it.

    I have so much crap on my desk that now my hand kinda hovers above the trackball. Quite comfortable.
    (Plus you can drop any pool ball in there instead of what comes with it - so it's fashionable too.)


    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~

    How many surrealists does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
  • by jetson123 ( 13128 ) on Monday November 22, 1999 @12:10PM (#1512176)
    For nerds and touch typists, I don't know of any better input device than the IBM Trackpoint. That's the same input device IBM uses on their laptops. It lets you type and mouse around without reaching for any kind of input device.

    It takes a few days to get used to it, but once you are, it's a really efficient way to move the mouse pointer around.

    I think a lot of people don't like the Trackpoint because they tried the knockoffs by Toshiba and HP; their "eraserhead" pointing devices don't work anywhere near as well as the IBM one. The trick to making those kinds of pointing devices work comfortably is in getting the mapping from force to pointer movement just right, and IBM did many years of user research and performance testing to improve that (even between IBM's different trackpoint models, there are noticeable differences: Trackpoint 4 is quite a bit more efficient than the older models).

    You can get several desktop versions of the Trackpoint keyboard from IBM. I bought Trackpoint 4 keyboards in "Stealth Black" [] for all my machines.

  • Hell, REAL hackers use the command line. :-) GUIs are for wussies...

    Oh my, I hope I didn't come across as pushing for the end of the command line :) Let it be said thusly: He who takes away my command line will be hunted down and killed.

    (in other words, I couldn't agree with you more)

    I find that there is an easy solution to the aforementioned "problem" - shell scripting.

    While I certainly wouldn't want to downlpay the sheer beauty of shell scripting/cron (couldn't live without them either), I was less talking about repeatedly performed sequences of actions and more talking about a way to describe/define 3 dimensional interaction with the computer.

    Really, honest to god, all I want out of computers in my entire life is to be able to do that scene from Johnny Mnemonic (yeah yeah, it sucks, i know) where Johnny puts both hands above his head, fingers extended, like some electric bird of prey and says menacingly "I can crash your whole board from here, man."

    I'm willing to support whatever it takes to get to that point :)

    Segmentation fault (core dumped)
  • by Cobalt ( 1294 )
    This brings up a question.. ARE there any new computer users? Maybe in the third world but those people might not be all that familiar with a pen either...?


    and click on the "Digital Ink" button.
  • I have enough fun cleaning my traditional mouse/trackballs of finger crud, crumbs, and spills, now just imagine scaling down everything but the crud 10x and cleaning it. I'll pass, thanks.
  • I have a small objection to input devices based on radio wave transmissions. With the right scanner, your input is easily read from remote distances. If you have national security concerns, then conceivably the ultra-powerful scopes of Echelon can track your mouse movements. Otherwise maybe it's just a nosy neighbor.

    Of course, who would care where you clicK?

  • I did a little work with touchscreens for some kiosk development a few years ago. Touch screens are really cool -- for a few minutes. You don't want to hold your arm straight out in front of you for any significant length of time. I will agree that sticks are better than rocks for drawing. And when I'm drawing, I do prefer to use my graphics tablet. However, most of the things that I do with my pointing device aren't very much like drawing. I pick things up. I put them down somewhere else. I slide things around. For these actions, I'm more comfortable handling a rock than a stick. Rocks are, as someone else said in another thread, better for switching back and forth with a keyboard; I'd rather grab a rock that's right where I left it than pick up my stick again every couple of minutes. I'd rather tap a button with my finger (even after moving the image of my hand around for a second) than with the end of a stick. And I like the little wheel on my rock; I don't know where you could comfortably and safely place such a control on a stick. Also, button placement on a stick seems much more personal, depending more on hand size, on a stick than on a rock. Maybe the stick and touchscreen interfaces would work a little better for a horizontal display/input surface than our current vertical ones as a sole interface. The desktop-style panels on Trek don't look to bad, but just thinking about the wall-mounts make my shoulder ache. I have never been as comfortable writing on a wallboard as a desktop. Besides, even as the last of the hunt-and-peck programmers, I am more comfortable with a keyboard than with a pen for long stretches of text, and I want tactile feedback from my keyboard while I'm at it. I'd love to see a keyboard that integrates well with a horizontal LCARS panel, but can't imagine a layout where one wouldn't get in the way of the other.
  • As a professional graphics designer I have enough problems keeping my monitor clean to start fondling it with my fingers.

    Heck, I spent the better part of last month convincing the cleaning crew to stop 'cleaning' my screen.

  • So, does this pen support variable pressure sensitivity? Doesn't look like it. For most operations, I prefer a mouse, but I do like my Wacom tablet for graphics applications, especially those that support variable-pressure input. In fact, I'd hate to try using a natural-media paint program without a pressure-sensitive device.

    Slightly off-topic, but: How much support is there for variable-pressure devices in the Gimp? All my graphics experience has been in Windows (I know -- boo, hiss -- get over it), but I'm starting to take an interest in the Gimp as well. For that matter, does the Gimp (or any other Linux graphics software) have any type of natural-media functionality?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Pen Partner ( works like a real pen, and is positioned absolutely - you have a pad and wherever you put the pen down on the pad, your mouse cursor appears in the analgous position on the screen. Tap it against the pad, and you just clicked. A side button allows you to right-click or double-click (programmable)

    I use it all the time for drawing purposes.

    The best thing about it, though, is that you can use it in conjunction with a mouse (for all your pointer needs).
  • I've been using a Silitek K-7100 keyboard with an integrated joystick-like pointer which is outstanding, the only problem is that it works with IR light so you can't work with another of these keyboards next to you.
  • I use a trackball myself, ITAC (who I think has gone to pot) and Kensington. I like the big trackballs as opposed to those dinky Logitech ones.

    I hadn't thought about holding my arm up so much. I mostly move the arrow into an xterm and leave it there for a while, sometimes click while testing web pages. But I agree now that I think of it. Thanks for the feedback :-)

  • .. it's not worth it. I got one of the first ones that were produced, and the radio link was quite alright - if you were in a radio wave free environment - but most people aren't. I've heard that there's a new version out where this is significantly improved (it actually works now).
    But the claimed improvement of ergonomics are simply not there. In order to register movement, you have to hold quite tight onto the pen to press the ball in the end down to make it roll, hence you tighten your fingermuscles for as long as you move the pen.
    It was recently tested by a danish consumer magazine ("Tænk", I think it was), along with several other pointing devices. It wasn't the worst, but it came pretty close, along with mice in the price range of $5-$10.
    How you like it is of course a matter of taste, but I can in no way recommend it. If you really do not want a mouse, my personal (non-sponsored) recommendation is the Logitech Trackman Marble FX; it feels like wearing a glove - if you stretch your hand in front of you - in a non-turned, relaxed state - and let it drop to the table, that's how the Trackman Marble is handled and is to your wrist.
    No left-hand version, though..
  • I use it on my Linux box, and it works great.
    Everything works (including the wheel) except for the two side buttons.
  • I DO think a pen makes for an awful pointing device. I DID buy a Wacom, and tried to use it instead of a mouse. It just wasn't as comfortable. The pen is great for sensitive applications, where you need fine control and pressure sensitivity, but for pushing windows and widgets, the mouse is the way to go.

    I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said "Information wants to be free".
  • One solution is the Sun Interface Converter, part X465A.
  • Not at all. After my first brush with mouse-induced wrist pain, I ran right out & got myself a Wacom tablet, and I use it all the time for general pointing & clicking. It's actually quite nice & natural feeling, and MUCH easier on my wrists than this stupid mouse. The only down side is that I lost the little stand you keep the pen in when you're not using it, so I'm constantly playing 'find the pointing device'
  • On wheel mice, pressing the wheel down is the same as pressing the middle button. However, I don't know whether the tracking works under Linux just as it does in Windows.
  • Look, your typing, as people often do, and then you reach over to slide your mouse down and get to another spot, and continue typing....

    But a pen, you have to pick it up, and set it down each time. It's not at constant "stand-by" waiting to be moved into another position like a mouse is. A mouse sits where it sits. You give it a nudge to the right or left, and that's it... You don't have to pick it up, then slide it, then set it back down.

    Extra movements needed by this pen thing are NOT an improvement. The only thing it might have going for it is precision for like graphic artists or something... Dunno. I just can't see rushing out to get something that would be a total pain in the ___ to have to use on a daily basis.

  • Gotta agree with you here. It's really nice to be able to use my left hand for typing and my right (useless) hand for grasping the rock shaped object and pushing it in the right direction. I really don't know what I'd do if I had to hold a stick in my right hand. Maybe I'd just have to learn to onehand type with the right hand instead.
  • Last night Lawnmower Man was on, and I noticed the flying mouse that they were using.

    Anyone have any thoughts on these?

    For those who don't know, it's like a mouse that you hold in your hand, not on a desk. The one on the movie basically was contoured with extensions that fit over your thumb and pinky I guess it follows the movement of your hand, and the buttons are held against your fingers.
  • I don't know about you, but the thought of having to lift a hand up from a keyboard to touch some spot or other on a 17"+ monitor and then back down to the keyboard make me cringe. I get annoyed enough just having to move over to the 6" mouse pad. Or worse yet, having to hold my arm up to the monitor for successive movement. Blechh.

    Of course if the display was flat roll up touchscreen which could be laid down flat on a desk or drafting table or something, that could be something.

    Now that I think about it, an artist at an easel (sp?) is holding their arms up all the time... I think the difference there is that the output device and the input device are one and the same. It's the idea switching back and forth between a keyboard and some other pointing method which chills me.
  • Check out Microsoft's new IntelliEye mouse. They can make good hardware and these thigs are really cool. They have the ability to track on almost any surface, not just a grid. And it is true, they work on just about anything besides reflective material, or a surface with no texture (physical not color texture), they will work on any mouse pad and most desk surfaces. Highly recomended, especially when the price get down below $50.
  • Here [] is a link to Wacom's combination Active-Matrix LCD displays and pressure-sensitive tablet. Pretty cool. Now if someone does this with the Apple Cinema Display [], which looks way cool.

    I think that better GUI's are out there, it's just expensive to try anything other than the mouse and tube that comes with your pc. And it's probably even less likely for a company to provide you with hardware this cool... Unless you are very, very good at what you do.

  • I don't think that startrek style console devices will ever take off. The handheld ones might.

    I've got a Fujitsu Lifebook (B series) with a touchscreen. It is a GREAT input device for web browsing. It is not good for long periods of work. It is just plain not comfortable to look at the same place that your hands are for long periods of time. Either my neck hurts if I look down, or my arms hurt if I move them up.

    Not much I can do about it. I don't think that many really productive systems will ever evolve that require you to look at where your hands are. We've all learned to touch type so we don't need to do that. Also for speed. But try looking down at your keyboard for 8 hours a day and you'll see.

    Or could it just be that we're so used to this that anything else is uncomfortbale??
  • You would just end up with stress injuries to the neck and back from leaning over and hanging your head all day. no good...
  • Actually there was an article in "Circuit Cellar Ink" (whose website escapes me at the moment) about two or three years ago with plans for just such a device. The only problem was you needed three EKG sensors to use it. IIRC it tracked where you looked and used blinks as clicks. It was developed for disabled use but I still want to build one for fun someday. If anyone is interested e-mail me and I'll lookup the article next week when I'm back home again (I'm on the road this week...but I still need my daily /. fix!)
  • Try writing as fast as you can type. Not easy, especially when it has to be clear enough for a computer to understand it.
  • This is one of the funniest posts I've seen on /. Most of the best letters? I love it, but must disagree. Although the left side does contain some of the traditional favorites, some might even consider them "classics". It does house some downright useless ones such as 'z' and 'x' and only a step above, 'q'. How often do you use 'x' compared with 'i', 'o', or 'u' ?. I think the best letters are scattered all over the keyboard.
  • I'll second that. I worked in the lab where Trackpoint is and was developed (the USER Lab at IBM's Almaden Research Center). They put lots of work into usability testing. Without revealing any secrets, I can say that Trackpoint is still under active development, with some nifty new features to come.

    One caveat about the current generation of trackpoint keyboards: The mouse part is great, but the keys are not. They're your standard high-travel, high-resistance, tallish keys on a slanting keyboard. I tried one for a while while I was working there, and it really hurt my hands. Unfortunately, IBM does not make a stand-alone version of its laptop keyboards, which are the nicest around. I even considered mutiliating my old Thinkpad to make a keyboard for my new system, but then I found an infrared keyboard with similar action (but, alas, no Trackpoint :( ). I'm typing on it now. According to the manual, tt's from a company called BTC, and the model code is 501OR. They're available at Fry's, so you can check one out (with a thirty-day return policy) if you have Fry's stores in your area.

    Vovida, OS VoIP
    Beer recipe: free! #Source
    Cold pints: $2 #Product

  • and a mouse (price, and relitivity (which in some cases is a good thing (though I cant think of any right now (actualy I can, fps games)))).

    Whoa there! You been hacking too much LISP lately? ;)

    Vovida, OS VoIP
    Beer recipe: free! #Source
    Cold pints: $2 #Product

  • I'm always looking for my 'next' new computer toy, and this of course includes pointing devices.


    IMHO the mouse is the best pointing device currently available. As a general PC user I like the design for its simplicity and fuctionality. As a gamer, the mouse offers the perfect mix of control and sensitivity. I can't even *imagine* trying to play Q3A with a trackball. Seriously, as much beef as I have with Microsoft, that IntelliMouse is wonderful. I've become very attatched to the little scroll wheel! (Which is also a third button.) If only they'd stick to selling hardware, huh?

    A short while ago I tested out a few trackballs, but I have yet to find a satisfactory product. Also, since I'm bad and constantly have munchies with me at the computer, the trackball would dirty *very* quickly from potato-chip oils, pizza grease, et cetera. ;-)

    I would love to see more laptop manufacturers use trackballs, though. Though they're incomparable to mice, I *really* can't stand those kludgy touch-pads and eraser heads.

    I would be very interested in hearing others' trackball comments.

    For my uses, pen-type devices, while cool for artists, are too specialized.

    What will the next technology be? I've heard of a Japanese company that is developing a device that follows eye movement for use in military applications (target designation for fighter pilots, working with the helmet visor and HUD). This way the pilot doesn't have to take his eyes of the sky to fiddle with the controls currently used for this purpose, and allows for extremely quick changes.

    Could that be scaled for use as a PC pointing device? (Just look where you want on the screen, and the cursor goes there.)

    For now, though, Mickey works fine. :-)
  • I have been using a Wacom [] ArtPad (supported quite nicely in XFree86) for over a year now. The best thing about a pen tablet is that it is not a mouse -- you can jump to any point on the screen in the time it takes to shift your hand. Though it took a while to get used to the buttons on the pen (and they still kinda annoy me), it has made working at the computer much more comfortable (not to mention, it has increased my Starcraft dexterity exponentially -- i can repair 12 bunched wraithes with no missed clicks. Though it kinda blows for quake...)

    To me, this new pen combines all the disadvantages of a mouse and a pen into one. The worst thing about mice is the mouse ball by far -- it always gets dirty, it requires you to use the same amount of force constantly. Like all pens, it has those annoying buttons.

    If you use a Wacom tablet, the serial port connects to the tablet -- not the pen. All that fancy radio hardwire, besides sounding like a frustration in the wings (interference = no mouse!), really doesn't offer you anything that different from what already exists.

    Drivers exist because Wacom has done the sensible thing by sponsoring [] the XFree86 Project []. Plus, WACOM is a respected manufacturer that is more or less the standard for graphic designers worldwide.

    I doubt the cable from the tablet to the serial port will really bother you that much. Of course, if it does, check out the graphire []. And if you want something to really make you drool, check out this [].

  • Sun sells a PS/2 keyboard/mouse adapter for Suns. It used to be about $50, but it looks like they've gone with a 3rd party adapter instead of the Sun-branded one they used to use, so it may even be cheaper now.

    NASA loved these for adding different pointing devices to thier Suns at JSC. No one ever changed keyboards - it's pretty tough to improve on Sun's keyboards, especially if you chose the Sun layout (with the control key next to the A where Bill Joy intended it to be) instead of the PC layout that some people inexplicably prefer.
  • I hate to say Microsoft made a good product, but I just got an IntelliEye mouse a few hours ago, and it blows the pants off every mouse I've ever used.

    Its a shame someone else didn't make it, but if you're really looking for a great pointing device, these are about as nice as they get. You never realize how much friction you get from that ball until its gone.

  • First of all, a completely speech-based interface has its own problems, even if the speech recognition could be "perfect" and the interface extremely well-designed. That last part is probably harder than you think: for it to be a really good interface, you'd probably want it to "understand" you as clearly as another person would, which, even leaving out philosophical questions about whether it would really be conscious, is an AI-complete/Turing-Test sort of task.

    A less ambitious version might be a speech-to-text layer built over a command line, but that would be really bad. It would not be much faster than typing, and it would be very hard to disambiguate your commands, since shell commands do not consist entirely of real words. For example, I for one pronounce "/usr/bin" as "user bin", not "slash U S R slash bin", but how is it supposed to know that? It can't just replace "usr" with "user", because I could also have a directory called "user", and that's just one word -- how is it supposed to be able to guess where to insert slashes, etc.? A lot of letters sound like words; multiple words can be separate tokens or run together, capitalization is nto always consistent, etc. I would certainly not be willing to spell everything out clearly enough for a reasonable system to recognize, because it would probably end up being slower than typing. If I ever need to work faster, I'll learn to touch-type [1].

    Even if such an interface could be made to work really well, it seems that it would be pretty distracting to have an office full of people talking to their computers, let alone trying to use a laptop in a public place.

    Even ignoring that, a speech-based interface would still be lacking: Back to dictating shell commands: have you ever tried to dictate a session of shell commands to the person at the keyboard while looking over his shoulder? Even an AI-complete, Turing-test-passing agent (i.e., an actual human) cannot perfectly interpret your spoken shell commands. Telling someone where to click in a GUI can be even worse. In either case, you tend to end up wanting to grab the keyboard and/or mouse from him and do it yourself. That suggests that the keyboard/mouse is better than speech for giving commands. In fact, when talking someone through a GUI, you probably end up pointing at the screen and saying "click here" a lot, i.e., your first reaction is to improvise a "pointer" because you need to point at something.

    I suggest that the need to point at things is a fundmental part of any interface. What you really want is to be able to just think at it, but failing that, you'll probably find that putting what you want into words is actually harder than pointing/typing. The only thing I've used that I might like better than the mouse is the stylus on a Palm Pilot. This is a special case with respect to pen mouse devices because the interface is also different -- you tap controls with it, which combines the actions of pointing and clicking. This is a big difference, since you don't have to move an onscreen widget to the control. What I think would be good is to have a camera set up to track your eye movements, so you could just look at something on the screen and squint to tap it. Eye movements are the easiest, fastest and most accurate muscular actions that we are capable of, so it would be good to harness their information-carrying capacity.

    "Computer: tea, earl grey, hot."

    It's a cool line, but after a while I started wondering why Picard didn't set up a macro so he could just say "Tea" and get his default preference. Maybe if he had occasionally asked for iced tea, or darjeeling or something instead...

    [1] I currently do a sort of hybrid "hunt-and-touch" thing, where at least five or six fingers are moving, and they "know" where the keys are, but I have to be looking at the keyboard while doing it; I can get up around forty to fifty words per minute, so it's not much of a problemIt would be nice not to have to take my eyes off the screen, but it's never seemed worth the trouble.

    David Gould
  • The Amiga used to let you do things like this... had two ports - both could be used for either a mouse/joystick/pen/tablet... You could even have two mice :) Or, much more usefully, a mouse and a pen. :)
  • Yep, got a Kensington expert. I have sent them email several times and only got response like "We don't support Linux." Good to hear they are maybe thinking instead of jerking their knees.

  • I payed 140 for my Wacom Intuos 4x5 graphics tablet from Serial interface. I use it in conjuction with my ps2 mouse all the time. Coolest thing is that the Xfree modules support the wacom product line. I love having a pen to use in gimp now. Makes things so much easier.
    "We hope you find fun and laughter in the new millenium" - Top half of fastfood gamepiece
  • The scroll click on my mouse is programmable to do pretty much anything I want. Here a list of everything I can tell it to do:

    -Close Window
    -Double Click
    -Drag Lock
    -Maximize Window
    -Middle Button
    -Minimize Window
    -Next Window
    -Page Down
    -Page Up
    -Start Button (mswindows yeah)
    -Windows Explorer

    I dont know what it does with Linux (yet.. installing it on this machine soon), but it did come with the drivers so I assume it does plenty.

The absent ones are always at fault.