Personally, I haven't had any problems with moving the IntelliMouse Explorer too fast causing mistracking, despite much much too much Quake III and Counter-Strike (the plastic feet on the bottom of the mouse have literally been polished my my mouse pad).

I think a lot of these problems occur because of the surfaces people use, so here are some of the ones I've tried:

  • Standard cheapie mouse pad: Not bad. I had problems with the sides of the pad rolling up, but other pads with heavier rubber might be better. It tended to mis-track fairly easily.
  • Everglide: a little small, although the big square ones, and Ratpadz are probably fine. I had problems with the red printing on the pad interfering with the red light on the mouse; the sensor couldn't tell the different, and thus tracked really badly over the red areas. Otherwise, pretty nice, very little friction, although the physical motion of the mouse on the pad wasn't very smooth. Probably the best one out of the lot as far as high-speed tracking goes.
  • 3M Precise Mousing Surface (3M PMS): Waaay too small. Too much mouse-to-pad friction. Tracked fine though.
  • Tea towel: Someone in a forum somewhere recommended this one. I tried it, but didn't like it because it was too rough and bumpy. If you spent the time to flatten it down properly it would probably be ok.
  • Paper taped to the table: I used this for several months, and it was quite good because I could take it anywhere without any trouble. However I noticed that the bump on my wrist where it rubs on the table was starting to get very sore and pronounced, so I stopped using it. Very smooth, tracks well at high speeds.
  • Pants leg: The ultimate for lazy people. Kinda hard to gauge how smooth it is or how well it tracks, because my leg is rounded. Most clothing is fairly usable.
At the moment, I'm using a cheapie mouse pad, but one with a finer grain and heavier rubber than the normal ones. It's smaller than normal, but turning 90 degrees it's fine. It's extremely smooth and I've never had a problem with high-speed tracking at all.

This is one of the few products Microsoft has made that I actually like and recommend. I don't have the Explorer; I have the Intellimouse Optical, which is similar, but slightly smaller, ambidextrous and has one less button.

It tracks flawlessly on pretty much any surface; I still find myself using a normal cloth mousepad, though, because it has just the right coefficient of friction for moving the mouse comfortably]. It has also improved my Quake 3 game considerably, despite people saying it can't track fast enough. It tracks more than fast enough for me.
In late 2001 Microsoft released the IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0, a mouse that built on the previous two versions to produce one of the two (other being the Logitech MouseMan Dual Optical) best optical (or arguably any) mice currently available as of January 2002.

Generic info applicable to all versions: the IntelliMouse Explorer is an optical, corded mouse that utilises Microsoft's proprietary IntelliEye Technology. Smooth, right-handed ergonomic design, it is equipped with 2 top buttons, a wheel (and button), and 2 side buttons for use with thumb (on the left, sorry lefties*) - all 5 configurable via the Microsoft IntelliPoint mouse software. It interfaces via USB, and includes a USB-to-ps/2 adapter. It has a resolution of 400 dpi.

Previous versions of the IntelliMouse Explorer differed only by the rate at which they sampled. The original 1.0 released in early 1999 ran at 1500 times per second, which caused some noticeable tracking problems, especially when the mouse was moved quickly. Less then a year later version 2.0 was released: 2000/second. Although the tracking problems subsided, they were still there and still very noticable when the mouse was 'flicked' quickly - movement would seem to "rebound", move perpendicular and even backwards - by this time, a large variety of other manufacturers (Logitech foremost among them) had also introduced optical mice with the very same (flawed) technology. Although this was also evident in ball mice, the threshhold was much higher, especially in quality brands like Logitech, Microsoft and Razer (Boomslang).

Pet peeve warning, ignore at will
The 'flick' problem was a major problem for a subset of users who moved their mice quickly (namely gamers using techniques such as flick aim). I was one of them. Many of them adjusted their style to accomodate for the new mouse. Others simply resisted the spread of the optical mouse. For the "I haven't had any problems with optical mouse tracking and you shouldn't either" of you please and understand that although external factors like a mousing surface do affect tracking, even under the most optimal of conditions it simply cannot track well enough for some people.

The original two were physically indistinguishable from one another (I have been told v2.0 had a "2.0" label underneath) - same ergonomic shiny grey smooth case and buttons. Version 3.0, on the otherhand, is physically a slight-but-significant change from its predecessor - the whole case is lower down, and a little longer. A small ridge has been placed on the right to place the little finger, if so desired. Colour has become more darkish chrome than grey. The thumb sidebuttons are smaller but moved back slightly, approximatelly 2 centimetres above the ground. For those who haven't seen previous versions, 3.0 additionally has the text "IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 USB and PS/2 Compatible" underneath.

While the new shape is a great improvement on an already good design, the greatest thing about 3.0 is that it uses technology developed in-house at Microsoft, sampling at an orgasmic 6000 snaps per second, making it, as far as I can tell, totally, completely and utterly impervious to any type of tracking problem at all (given a decent surface). Believe me I've tried - moving my hand as fast as physically possible across my desk for a metre, jiggling the mouse so fast the buttons click by themselves, this thing does not, at all, lose tracking - in the whole month of my ownership of two units, this has never, ever, lost tracking (except when I put it on a mirror and other shiny surfaces), outperforming ball-mice (Razor Boomslang notwithstanding). This simple fact pretty much or less eliminates the single point of resistance to the optical movement.

Aside from this, the mouse has a good interface. Top buttons and wheel are well positioned, clicking clean and light. Whether or not the side buttons are a problem depends on your mouse grip, although most people seem to find it placed too high. There is, however, a notable problem with the four black corner positioned oval pads (approx 0.75cm^3 each). Although it allows the mouse to move smoothly, a significant difference between the static and kinetic friction coefficients causes subtle problems for small-scale corrections, e.g. accurately moving the mouse a millimetre from a stoping position is more difficult than necessary because a user must first apply a large force to overcome a high threshhold friction, and then immediatelly reduce it to prevent from overshooting. These Microsoft supplied pads are inferior to those found on the majority of other meeses on the market (those from Logitech, for example), which use white teflon pads of varying shapes, but are much better performing in the above respect.

Typical of no balls, it is a fairly light mouse, and could probably be improved by being purposefully made quite a bit heavier. (Note that a lot of people confuse the factors of contact friction and weight in a mouse - for the most part is it usually more suitable to have a minimal contact friction and a larger mouse intertia (heavier mouse). Increasing contact friction to gain more control over an unruly mouse is usually bad because of, among other things, this and that, as discussed earlier)

For pure aesthetics the mouse is equipped with an additional LED which lights up the transparent red panel with the IntelliInput Logo at the end (head, if the tail comes out the ass) which never turns off. Not only does this backlight appear to be totally useless, but it also requires it's own piece of circuit board (internally the mouse is broken up into the main board, the sidebutton board and the light board). Somewhat wasteful. The actual sensor LED does actually turn off when inactive. Reactivation of the sensor LED after the mouse drops into sleep mode does not cause a delay.

All in all this is probably the best mouse I have ever used. Your mileage may vary. That said, this is one of the first optical mice that tracks equal to, and most often better than, their quality ball counterparts. There is no reason not to convert to an optical mouse anymore (please take this gratuitous blanket statement with a grain of salt). Although the rest of the physical design is not significantly outstanding, (it's a decent design, but the problem with the pads suggests that Microsoft engineers, although equipped with the cooler technology, lack some experience making mice) it is good and clean, and looks more like my computer parts should be - a sleek chrome ninja instrument of death, not like some sort of horrible accident from a Fisher Price factory.

As of yet it (along with younger kindred IntelliMouse products) dominates the optical mouse technologies with its high sample rate - the only real competition in this field comes from the Logitech Dual MouseMan Optical that features two 2000/sec optical sensors in its mouse. Just because it's the only competition doesn't mean it's no competition. I nearly developed an eating disorder agonizing over which of these I should purchase.

Update - Versions of the Explorer's younger brother, IntelliMouse with IntelliEye that sample at 6000 per second are now available. I have not tried one of these personally but I think it would be safe to assume that it tracks just as well. In terms of of physical shape it is dual-handed (left or right handed) and considered by many to be better formed. As of yet I am not aware of any other mice that use the 6000/sec technology. Please msg me for updates. Note that now there is a third 'decent' optical mouse, there is less point to comparing the Explorer and Logitech Dual, but its left here because it still has some interesting points.

IntelliMouse Explorer vs Logitech Dual MouseMan Optical - Back in early 2002 these were the 2 best mice on the market (Not any more, see above). The pros and cons differences between these two make the ultimate choice a matter of personal taste, but here they are in a nutshell: The Explorer has an extra thumb button, and has flawless tracking capabilities. OTOH the Dual has a single thumb button that is by-and-large far easier to press, and although the case seems a little wierd at first, it grows on you. Additionally the Dual is heavier, although one could probably open the Explorer and add shrapnel until it suits (I have done this as well as changed the feet to mine). The main (only?) problem with the dual is that it's dual optical sensors do not match the precision offered by Microsoft's elite superior alien technology fundabs - moving the mouse fast still causes flick problems. At slower (but still attainable in normal usage) speeds it occasionally - albeit very very very rarely - randomly loses tracking. To put things into perspective, however, it still remains far superior to any other current mice on the market - but alas, there can be only one

If the Dual MouseMan was equipped with the IntelliEye, I would have chosen that. Despite a thorough effort by Microsoft, Logitech made a significantly more comfortable product to physically hold. Unfortunately they were let down by inferior optical technology.

Mouse mods

I've changed two things on my mouse which I, at least, are improvements. The first was a straightforward change of the feet, the second was a more intricate addition of weight.

  1. Feet change - First find some good feet from an old, cruddy mouse. These do not need to be the same size or shape as the originals. Press down on hard on a mouse and trying to move it by applying increasing lateral pressure. If it smoothly moves away then these will probably make a good replacement for the provided Microsoft ones. Check also that they (obviously) provide good smooth movement.

    Remove feet with a sharp flat instrument e.g. precision screwdriver, taking care not to scratch the plastic. Ensure there are no dirt or glue clumps where the new feet will make contact or these will unbalance the mouse.

  2. Weight - Screw holes are located under the feet. The case comes off easily with a bit of fiddling. Note multiple PCBs on the mouse (the lower one is solely for the decorational led and seems quite a waste). We are only interested in the upper (wheel) and centre (optical dsp) ones which are held in place by plastic clips. Additionally the centre PCB is screwed in. After moving these out of the way you should have some thin but adequate place to put some sort of deadweight around the optical hole. (I have used 2/3 stacked Australian 5 cent pieces, diameter 19mm, thickness 1.33mm). Turning the mouse upside down so the cord faces up, I placed two lots of 3 stack below the sensor hole to the left and right, and one lot of 2 stack (this must necessarily be lower to give space for the wheel when it is clicked) above and to the right slightly.

    Metal is obviously a good choice because of its density. Just please please remember to coat it in something non-conductive (like electrical tape) because those underside contacts are raw. Secure the coins (Blu-Tack) to the base of the mouse.

    I found these positions the best place to put the weight because it allowed the center of gravity to be as close as possible to the optical sensor hole, making a more balanced mouse.

Microsoft IntelliMouse ® Explorer 4.0A
for PS/2 and USB
designed _ in Redmond, WA

Pointing device preferences are a very personal business. Before I get stuck in to examining the latest iteration of Microsoft's flagship computer mouse, I suppose I should probably give you some background on my own mousing history.

I started out with a Naksha serial mouse (which I can remember very little about, apart from the fact it had three buttons - Google draws a blank save for a couple of mentions in Amiga mags). I then used a Logitech Pilot for many years, until the buttons eventually wore out. Next was a Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical (which I excitedly bought at release in 2000), which essentially carried on the strengths of the Pilot, with the addition of a very clunky scroll wheel. I currently use a Logitech MX510 'Performance' Optical Mouse (which has rubberised sides and a shell made of shiny blue 'bowling ball' plastic) which is probably the best mouse I've ever used. (It has eight buttons, for goodness sake.)

My basic philosophy is that a mouse should be an unobtrusive, narrow*, symmetrical** (I've yet to hear any good reason for a mouse not being symmetrical. It's a tool, not a glove.) lightweight puck with responsive buttons that allows for precise movements. The IntelliMouse Explorer 4.0 is basically none of these things.

I've carped about Microsoft mice before, hoping that people would at least agree that (in the post-beige era at least) they're merely tolerable for day-to-day computing tasks, but not exceptionally precise or comfortable. Their 'ergonomic' design seems to have been based on biometric data taken from the late Andre the Giant. And regardless of how many times per second they sample, they still aren't capable of pixel-level work. (Maybe this is due to horrible drivers, as even the Intellies with the same internal components as their Logitech equivalents suffered this problem.)

With the IntelliMouse Explorer 4.0, I no longer have to rely on (what lesser men might consider) nitpicking to make my case. This mouse has design flaws that are immediately evident. It's wider and stubbier than the version 3.0, with two hollows along its body for resting your index and middle finger. The optical IntelliEye™ is a good inch and a half too far back, so you end up basically steering the mouse with your wrist while your fingers splay out on the deck like sluggardly Belgian tourists.

The shape isn't painful, but it's a little awkward, and there's nowhere for the ring and pinky fingers to rest. I found myself turning the mouse over in idle moments to adjust my grip. (Oddly, the mouse doesn't seem to detect when it's been lifted from a surface. The light will flash rapidly and the cursor jerk around spasmodically if it's placed on its back.) Bear in mind that this is all in comparison with the version 3.0, which I'd just about grudgingly learned to live with (at work), at least until the wheel became permanently jammed up with crud.

So far, so nitpicky, you might think. However the fatal flaw, the Achilles heel, the Death Star exhaust port if you like (get on with it) is located, with delicious irony, in the very feature that was supposed to be the version 4.0's big innovation: the Tilt Wheel. The Tilt Wheel is essentially a normal (in fact, very nice) scroll wheel, housed in a cradle that can be nudged left and right like a tiny, extremely unresponsive digital joystick.

Obviously, this is quite pointless (occasions where you need horizontal scrolling in day-to-day tasks are rare***) and not even very well implemented (it's obviously not as precise as the vertical scroll wheel, and works in little bursts instead of scrolling smoothly). But the inexcusable problem that it introduces is that it makes middle-clicking almost impossible. You can feel the mouse clicking, but usually nothing happens first time, unless you jam down the wheel for about a second and a half. As you can imagine, this makes applications that make heavy use of the middle button (i.e. tabbed browsing) extremely heavy-going. Tasks where the middle button needs to be held down (many games) are completely out of the question.

Maybe I have a faulty mouse. Maybe I am just resistant to change. Maybe I have yet to be exposed to the killer app for horizontal scrolling, or haven't learnt the knack to middle-clicking without spraining my wrist and swearing. (Update: I seem to have adjusted to this now, although sometimes the middle button just decides to die for a few seconds.) Maybe it's part of a sinister plan to get rid of middle-clicking and so frustrate the designs of the Mozilla Foundation. One thing is for sure though: I'll be taking an old Logitech mouse in to work tomorrow.

* The thumb and little finger should grip the sides of the mouse. The body of the mouse should not press against the ball of the palm.

** Or, as symmetrical as fashion will allow. The ubiquity of the IntelliMouse family has made symmetrical mice look 'old-fashioned' in the eyes of the average consumer. The only one Microsoft have released for a while is their Optical Mouse by S+arck, a coffee bean-shaped lump of chrome designed by Phillipe Starck that's essentially the same shape as the Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical.

*** I suppose you could map it to the left- and right-turn controls in MAME to play the world's smallest 'authentic' version of Hang-On.

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