Newsweek magazine makes a splashy return on paper with a cover story claiming to have found the father of Bitcoin. In his Tech Term of the Week, El Kaiser explains doxxing and why Internet denizens are so ticked off at the weekly news magazine. The computer mouse has been with us for half a century and J.D. explains why it may stick around for awhile longer. In the news Google dives into wearable computing; Apple releases an 8-gigabyte version of the iPhone 5C — but not in the United States; the Windows XP Death Watch continues; The Big Bang Theory may have been proven; and say hello to robot fish.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the humble computer mouse. The late, great Doug Engelbart of the Stanford Research Institute built the first prototype in 1964 and later got a patent for the device in 1970. With the arrival Apple’s Macintosh computer in 1984, the mouse has had a long reign over desktop computer systems for the past three decades. Laptop trackpads and touch-screens may have cut into the mouse’s dominance, but if you use a desktop computer during your day, odds are there’s still a mouse attached to it.
But gripping a mouse for long hours — along with the arm and hand movements needs to pilot the device — can take a toll. If you’re having pain in your hand or arm after a long day riding the rodent, you may be suffering from a repetitive strain injury.
If you can, go to a doctor and get it checked out. If you have no access to medical help, so some research on RSI. You may be able to find exercises and other behavior modifications to help alleviate some of the pain. Also, study up on ergonomics — your chair, your desk and your workspace configuration may be working against you.
If using a mouse makes your hand hurt, there are other, possibly less-stressful tools to get around your desktop. These include:
- Trackballs. Sort of like an upside-down mouse, you spin a plastic ball with your fingers and click with your thumb or another digit. Because your fingers are spinning the cursor, you have fewer overall arm movements and a stable resting spot for your hand.
- Trackpads. A wireless or USB trackpad on your desktop machine could be a gentler alternative to the mouse, as you scroll, point and click by gently tapping the pad. Unlike laptop trackpads, you can position an external trackpad much more ergonomically.
- Pen and tablet. Instead of clutching a chunk of plastic, you hold a special pen and move it across a tablet to move around the screen. Wacom is the big player here. Pen tablets are favored by many artists, photographers and graphics professionals because of the superior degree of control and the natural feel of holding an old-fashioned writing implement. Some tablet also include trackpad-like multitouch shortcuts
- Voice command and dictation. Instead of typing out everything, speak your words. Both Windows (including Windows 8) and Mac OS X have a degree of voice control available for opening programs and moving around the system. Dictation software, either third-party offerings (like Nuance’s line of dictation programs) or built in to the OS (Windows and Mac OS X), can save you a whole bunch of keystrokes too if you can just recite your email or memo.
If you do stick with a regular mouse, check to see if it has programmable buttons. You may be able to set it up so one button-click equals two clicks, and that sort of thing. Keyboard shortcuts you can do with either hand may also help take some of the strain off your mouse arm, so check out the list for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux Mint and Ubuntu Linux.
Who knows, we could be headed for an all voice-activated user interface experience just like in the movie Her. But until then, let’s be careful out there and offer thanks to Doug Engelbart for getting us this far.
J.D. on what to expect when you install the latest version of Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux distro and Pedro on the Academy Awards ceremony. In the news, rumors heat up about casting for the new Star Wars movies; ISPs are watch your P2P downloading habits; the world’s smallest wireless charger; Mozilla’s new Firefox OS is nigh; and Samsung unveils the Galaxy 8.0 “phablet”.
Sure, it’s not hitting those Microsoft installation figures, but the Linux operating system continues to gain popularity. If you’ve got old hardware gathering dust around the house because it’s too old to run the latest flavor of Windows, installing the free (or very inexpensive) Linux operating system on the old gear can give it new life.
As mentioned last week and before, Ubuntu Linux is even making the move to tablets and smartphones. But if you know nothing about the system and are curious, it’s quite easy to repurpose your older PC laptop and desktop hardware into an Ubuntu Linux machine. Ubuntu is free, can use thousands of equally free applications and generally has lighter system requirements for hardware. It’s also one of the easier Linux distributions for newcomers to wrangle.
The current desktop edition, Quantal Quetzal (aka Ubuntu Linux 12.10) came out in October 2012, but the long-term support version is Precise Pangolin, version 12.04. If you haven’t upgraded your Ubuntu installation in a while — or are new to the system — Quantal Quetzal has a number of new features, including the ability to pin Web applications to the Launcher bar, plus search and preview powers right from the Dash.
Ars Technica has a very detailed look at Quantal Quetzal, as does ZDNet, and neither review sugarcoats the annoyances of this current distribution. The Ars review also points out some installation problems on some of the test systems and some workarounds, so it’s definitely worth a read before you jump in.
Not sure if you want to make that move to Linux Land? Not a problem. You can give it a test drive and run it from a DVD or a USB stick. The Ubuntu site has instructions. You can also just go for it and download an .iso file to burn your own installation disc, or use the Windows installer to get the system on your PC.
The system requirements for Ubuntu Linux are pretty low compared to recent editions of Windows. But if you want to try to squeeze even more life out of really ancient hardware, you can try a “lite” version of Linux like Lubuntu or Xubuntu instead.
Although Quantal Quetzal just came out last October, this bird won’t be flying high as the current version for long. The next edition, 13.04, will be called Raring Ringtail and has an expected release this April.
Ubuntu is not the only Linux distribution out there. Some people don’t care for its Unity interface and its approach to privacy, which Canonical founder and Ubuntu leader Mark Shuttleworth addressed recently and has blogged about.
If you try it out and decide the Ubuntu variation of Linux is not for you — or those privacy issues are a deal-killer — check out one of the other distros like Linux Mint or Mageia. Windows and Mac OS X may dominate the current desktop operating system market share, but with Linux, you can be part of the 1% at last.