If you use a PC, I reckon the second best ever improvement to them is the mouse.
Before people started using them you had to do everything with the keyboard.
Of course, nowadays you might have a touch-screen, and they’re handy too. But for some things a mouse is better than even them.
Even if you have a laptop rather than a desktop PC, I’d recommend using a mouse rather than the built in touchpad that you can use by sliding your finger around it. You can buy a perfectly reasonable one for less than £5 and plug it in when you’re using the laptop on a table or desk and save the touchpad for when you’re using it on your lap. With a mouse, you’re much less likely to get frustrated by not being able to get it to do quite what you want.
But even with a mouse you might sometimes find it doesn’t work as smoothly as you’d like. It might be slightly “jumpy” rather than the pointer moving smoothly across the screen as you move the mouse. Or sometimes it might not want to move at all… then suddenly move but not quite in the direction you expected.
With the earliest mice, this could be because of some dirt in the mechanism, but with modern mice (the ones with a red light underneath them) that doesn’t usually happen.
Instead, it’s to do with the surface you’re using it on. Some table surfaces work well – others really don’t, depending on the finish on them. Cloth tablecloths sometimes work well – but not all. And plastic ones (like we have on our kitchen table) often just don’t let it work properly.
You can buy a “mouse mat” to use the mouse on – but most of these are still designed to work best with a mouse with a moving ball in it, rather than these red light types. And some of them simply don’t work properly with a modern mouse.
Of course, if that’s all you’ve known, you might not realise it could all be easier!
The simplest solution is to use a sheet of paper – plain white printer paper often works well. Some magazines are all right, too, but the glossy ones often make the mouse pointer a bit jumpy.
In fact the best mouse mat I’ve discovered is what I’m using now (I’m sat at the kitchen table as I type, so the wipeable tablecloth we have on it stops the mouse working well without something to use it on).
The best thing I’ve discovered for a mouse mat is simple cardboard – not rough corrugated but the kind of thing you get on the back of a pad of paper.
The best things aren’t always the high tech ones!
What is the point of all this technology?
I know that’s a pretty low tech tip – perhaps not what you’d expect from a techie. But I have a different view on it from most people who are into technology.
Lots of experts seem to believe that the point of all this technology is how clever it all is… or how impressive the latest thing is.
To be fair, I do look at some new developments and think “That’s just amazing” – I remember the first time I saw a computer that could display a colour photograph properly on the screen and being gob-smacked.
But to me the point of it all is what you can do with it. Or what it can do for you.
Which is why my new “Next Steps” books aren’t full of me saying “Look at this, isn’t it clever” – no.
Instead they’re full of me saying “Here’s a thing lots of people find helpful or interesting to do with their PC/laptop/tablet/smartphone… here’s why you might want to do it… and here’s how”.
Anyway, you can find out more about the books here.