Most of your interaction with your computer will be via the mouse, keyboard and screen. If you’re a poor typist, do yourself a very big favour and buy a typing tutor program for your computer. You can pick up a good one for under 20 bucks, either from a computer store or through online retailers such as Amazon.

You use a mouse to move a pointer, or cursor, on the screen. To learn mousing technique, try playing some of the simple games supplied with Windows. Click the Start button and then click Games to open the Games Explorer. (In Windows XP, it’s Start button -> Programs -> Games.) A game like Minesweeper will give you practice with clicking quickly and accurately and using the right mouse button as well as the left; the card game FreeCell will help you learn how to click and drag. You’ll find instructions on how to play in each game’s Help Menu.

Basic pointers

Right-handers' mouse position

Typical mouse orientation for a right-hander. To get a better grip, you should bend your thumb at the first joint so it rests firmly against the side of the mouse.

Hand position. Place the back of the mouse so it sits near the heel of your palm, with your thumb resting gently down one side and your fourth and little fingers down the other. Your index finger should be positioned on the left mouse button and your middle finger on the right button.

For lefties, the index finger is on the right mouse button and the middle finger on the left, so you use the middle finger to click; the index finger to right-click (see the descriptions of click and right-click below).

If there’s a middle button and/or wheel on the mouse, use your index finger—regardless of whether you’re a right- or left-hander—to manipulate it.

Orientation. Keep the mouse facing directly forward, with its cord at the top (if it has a cord, that is; some mice are cordless). Keeping that orientation, move the mouse north/south, east/west, or diagonally across the mouse pad. Don’t try to skew the mouse around.

If there’s a middle button or wheel on the mouse, use your index finger (for right and left handers) to manipulate it. It’s important that you keep the mouse stationary when you double-click.

The leftie switch

Left-handers' mouse position

Typical mouse orientation for a left hander. To get a better grip, you should bend your thumb at the first joint so it rests firmly against the side of the mouse.

Many left-handers prefer to switch the button functions so they use the index finger to click and the middle finger to right-click, just as right-handed users do. I normally advise against this for beginners, because it makes for confusing terminology; for example, if you make this switch, when you’re instructed to “right-click the file” you’ll actually need to left-click it.

If you decide to make the switch anyway, here’s how:

  1. Click Start, Settings, Control Panel.
  2. Double-click the Mouse applet.
  3. In the Mouse properties dialog, locate the settings which let you adjust the mouse button assignments (the actual settings depend on the type of mouse you are using). Switch the button functions so the left button is right-click and the right button is click. (In some mouse settings, there’s simply an option to “switch the functions”.)

Note, if you can’t find the setting mentioned in step 3, it could be that you’re using a non-Microsoft mouse that has its own settings. In that case, locate the settings that let you adjust the mouse button assignments and switch the button functions so the left button is right-click and the right button is click.

Get a wheel
Does your mouse have a wheel? If it doesn’t, junk it (or donate it) and get yourself a mouse with a wheel. The wheel is a simple invention that has revolutionised the way we interact with our computers. You will save yourself a huge amount of time and much frustration if you invest a few dollars in a wheel mouse.

Mouse terminology & techniques

Your mouse is capable of quite a few different actions. Here’s a guide to the mousing techniques you’ll need to master.

Note: If you’re a left-hander who has switched mouse button assignments as described in the sidebar, you’ll need to adjust these instructions to allow for the reversed button positions. For example, to click you’ll use the right mouse button instead of the left.

click: Press and release the left mouse button once. Clicking is useful for highlighting (selecting) an object on the desktop or in a window, ‘pressing’ buttons in dialog boxes, selecting items from menus and a variety of other tasks.

right-click: Press and release the right mouse button once. Right-clicking often gives you access to special advanced menus relevant to the current activity (these are known as ‘context-sensitive menus’). For instance, if you right-click a Web page, you’ll see a menu of options that let you add the page to your browser bookmarks, print the page, and so on; if you right-click in a Microsoft Word document, you’ll see options that let you change the font you’re using or copy text.

double-click: Press and release the left mouse button twice in rapid succession. Make sure you don’t move the mouse at all between clicks. Even a very slight movement between clicks will make Vista think you’ve done two, separate clicks instead of a single double-click.

Double-clicking an object lets you open it. If you double-click a document, the document is opened; if you double-click a program, the program is launched.

Ctrl+click: Hold down the Ctrl key (sometimes labelled Control) while clicking with the mouse button. This technique is useful when selecting multiple files or folders. Normally, when you click one item and then click another item, the second item is selected the the first item is deselected. That is, you can select only one item at a time in this manner. If you Ctrl+click an item and then Ctrl+click another item, both of them are selected. You can Ctrl+click any number of items.

When is Ctrl+clicking handy? Say you’d like to know how much space several folders in your Documents folder occupy. Ctrl+click each of those folders and then right-click any one of them and choose Properties from the context menu. You’ll get information about all of the folders, including how much space they occupy in total. Ctrl+clicking is also useful when you want to open several documents at once: Ctrl+click each then press Enter to open them all. Don’t try this with too many documents simultaneously, though, or your computer might wilt under the pressure.

Mouse configuration

Use the Mouse applet in the Control Panel to adjust the settings for your mouse. Depending on the brand and model of mouse you have, this dialog box may look a little different.

shift+click: Hold down the Shift key while clicking with the mouse. Shift+clicking lets you select a series of contiguous files. For example, if you want to select a dozen files listed one after another in a folder, instead of Ctrl+clicking each file, do this: Click the first file in the list and then Shift+Click the last file in the list.

scroll: Roll your mouse wheel back and forth to scroll it. Roll the wheel away from you to scroll up, roll it towards you to scroll down. You’ll use this scrolling technique frequently on web pages and in any document longer than a single screen. Some mouse wheels even let you scroll sideways by pushing the wheel side to side.

hover: Move the mouse pointer over an item and let it remain there without clicking either mouse button. When you hover over certain items, extra information is displayed such as a description of the item’s purpose (known as a tooltip), or a sub-menu of choices.

drag-and-drop: Also called ‘click-and-drag’. Depress the left mouse button and, while keeping it depressed, move the mouse pointer to another location, then release the mouse button. Drag-and-drop is used to move items about on the Desktop or within programs, for copying or moving files, and for placing one object onto another. For instance, you can drag-and-drop a file onto the Recycle Bin to delete the file. You can tell when you have the dragged object correctly positioned over the target because the target will be highlighted. Once the target is highlighted, release the mouse button to drop the object you’re dragging.

right drag-and-drop: Also called ‘right-click-and-drag’. Same as drag-and-drop, but using the right mouse button. Right dragging-and-dropping an object pops up a menu of options that let you choose what to do with the object when it reaches its destination. Your choices are usually to Copy the object to the destination, to Move the object to the destination, or to Create A Shortcut to the dragged object at the destination.

select: Click an object once to select it. For example, if you click a file in a list of files, that file is selected and any subsequent actions you take will affect that file. You can identify a selected file because it will be highlighted.

open: Double-click an object—a file, a folder, a program—to open it.

Buying a mouse

Choosing a mouse is a very personal affair. The best way to choose one is to try out a bunch of them. Go to one of the big computer stores or office supply stores where they have banks of mice available to test. Make sure you choose a mouse that feels comfortable in your hand. If you don’t have the opportunity to test some mice, visit and check out the user reviews.

The mouse you choose for your desktop computer may be different from the one you’ll want for your notebook. For a desktop PC, either a mouse with a cord or a cordless (wireless) mouse is suitable. The latter lets you move the mouse about with ease and does away with a bit of clutter (although some models come with a wireless receiver which has its own cord), but it requires batteries. If your batteries run out of juice, you’ll be mouse-less until you replace them. Many wireless mice come in a set with a wireless keyboard as well.

For use with a notebook computer, the best option is a compact, wireless mouse with a cordless receiver that plugs directly into a USB port.

Mice come in different sizes, for children and those with small or large hands. There are also some mice which are distinctly right-handed; if you’re a leftie, make sure you find a mouse with an ambidextrous soul.

My favourite mice

There are a few things I always look for in a mouse:

  • It must be very comfortable to hold.
  • It must accommodate left-handers (I’m one).
  • It must have a wheel.
  • It should be an optical mouse, not a ball mouse. The latter, older technology uses a ball which rolls across the mousepad. Optical mice, also known as laser mice, are much smoother to use, but work best when used on a special type of mousepad. (I am a fan of the minimalist 3M Precise Optical Mousing Surface. Some people prefer this version instead.)
  • If it’s for use on a notebook computer, the wireless receiver should attach to the mouse when it’s not in use, so there’s no chance of losing it.

At the moment, on my desktop PC I’m using the Logitech Cordless Desktop Wave mouse and keyboard. It’s a pretty nice combo. On my notebooks, I always use the compact Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 3000.

I also use a wrist rest. You can get combination mousepad/wrist rests, but I prefer to have a movable wrist rest. You can’t go past the Imak Mouse Cushion. It provides good support while massaging your wrist. Nice.