Apple II Mouse. (evaluation) Steve Arrants.
Apple owners who have taken a test drive with the Lisa or Macintosh are impressed by these new machines. They are sleek, powerful, and fun. But let's face it, most of us are not going to rush out and buy these expensive and powerful machines based only on a short test. We have a large investment--in both time and money--tied up in our Apple IIs. Still, after using a Macintosh, you begin to see the usefulness of the mouse. For control of text in MacWrite, image creation and manipulation in MacPaint, and in other programs, the mouse makes many things easier to do. Say "Cheese"
Now, there is a mouse for the Apple II series. It is the same mouse that Lisa and Mac use: a small, cigarette pack size box topped by a big grey button. On the bottom, it has a small rubberized ball held by a locking ring. When the mouse is placed on a tabletop, the ball is held against a set of motion detectors that convert your hand movements into signals that the computer can process.
As an analogy, think of a track-ball controller on your favorite arcade game. The mouse is a more refined version of this game controller, turned upside down. Instead of using the cursor keys and a control-key squence, you use the mouse to move a pointer across the screen to an icon or verbal menu selection. Action is initiated when you depress the button.
Included in the package is MousePaint software written by Bill Budge, a full-featured graphics package that is as close to MacPaint as many Apple II owners will get. And it has one feature that will make Mac owners jealous--color. Training the Mouse
The MousePaint software is a freehand graphics program which incorporates different tools to convert mouse movements into patterns, shapes, brush strokes, lines, and curves. To select a tool, drag the pointer to the lefthand side of the screen. Place the pointer over a tool, click the mouse, and you are ready to take action.
The hand icon is used to pull more of the page into view, since the space you see on your monitor is only part of the total sketchpad. The pencil lets you make freehand drawings on the sketchpad. The spray can helps you shade your picture. The brush paints a swath of black in different widths on-screen. A straight edge draws straight lines at any angle, in various widths and patterns. If you make a mistake, the eraser quickly wipes clean any part of your drawing.
Five pairs of shape symbols are also available: rectangle, rectangle with rounded corners, oval/circle, free-form, and polygon. You may choose an outline shape or its solid form.
Colors and patterns are selected from the bar at the bottom of the screen. Move the pointer over your selection and click the mouse to select one.
The editor box can be dragged or "rubber banded" across the screen, letting you copy, invert, flip, or cut and paste graphics. Cut text is moved into a buffer and can be placed anywhere in the picture you are working on or onto another picture.
"Rubber banding" makes the drawing of lines and shapes very easy. Click a shape icon, such as rectangle, circle, free-style, or polygon, and move the mouse back to the drawing page. Click the mouse and drag it across the screen. As it moves, the shape is continually drawn, erased, and redrawn until you are satisfied and the mouse button is clicked again. The shape is always true, i.e., the sides of a square are always even and in proportion. Depending on how you "rubber band," a circle might be an oval, a flat disk, or a perfect circle.
Unlike other graphics programs, the background underneath an image isn't erased or changed; it is always there. Selecting Undo from the Edit menu erases the last drawn shape and restores what was behind it.
Fatbits is a magnified mode that blows up the portion of the page occupying the upper left of the screen, allowing editing of fine details. You use the pencil icon to turn on or off different blocks in the picture.
Five fonts--Toronto, New York, Athens, Venice, and System Font--are used to place text anywhere on the screen. Select a font from the menu, click the text icon (a large letter A), and move the cursor to the point where text should begin. All keyboard characters are available, including DELETE.
MousePaint is one of the easiest and most responsive graphics packages I have used. It does have three drawbacks, however. The pencil and paintbrush icons draw only with black or white ink. Colors aren't allowed. Second, you can Undo only the last command. You can't do a series of Undo's to erase successive steps. And finally, the clipboard holds just one cut image at a time. These may be minor points to you, however. I found it both enjoyable and instructive to work around these limitations. Windows
Like the Mac and Lisa, MousePaint features overlapping menus and windows. One gives information about MousePaint. Another lets you set the size and type of brush, and the third shows a miniature view of what the page will look like when printed on the Apple Imagewriter printer. The final window is used to select a font.
The menus follow the Mac/Lisa scheme. At the top of the screen is a bar with the names of different menus: File, Edit, Aids, and Font. Point to one, press the mouse button, and the menu slides down onto the screen. Moving the pointer to a menu option activates it. When the mouse button is released, the menu disappears. Mouse Technicalities
The Apple II Mouse includes a 5-chip interface card with its own 6502 microprocessor and ROM routines which make the mouse a good deal more responsive than any game controller. The dedicated 6502 frees the Apple CPU for other tasks and speeds mouse operations. The Apple II Mouse may be installed in any slot, though slot 4 is recommended.
Because you use the mouse by moving it around a table top, you will need to set up a clean working area. The work space should be next to your Apple and about one foot square. Software and Documentation
In addition to the MousePaint program, a short tutorial on how to move and use the mouse is included on disk. I wish that Apple had included some sample graphics, perhaps the same graphic in different stages of completion. Disk space may have been a problem, though. You can save only one picture on the MousePaint master. MousePaint files can be saved on any proDOS formatted disk, and the master is unprotected.
The documentation is a 56-page booklet that explains how to clean the mouse, what the various icons mean, hints on easier shape drawing, and how to write mouse programs. It is written in Apple's usual style--understandable, readable, and very friendly. Survival of the Fittest
Can the Apple II Mouse make it? Is mouse technology the way the future will be, or is it just a novelty? Sure, MousePaint is fun to play with, but what else can you do with it?
First, the mouse works. It is responsive, fast, and transparent--i.e., you get used to it quickly. Using the mouse with MousePaint makes me want to use it in conjunction with other programs, such as AppleWorks. That leads us to a sensitive question. Will there be software that can use the mouse?
We hear that Bill Budge is at work on more software for the mouse, including a graphics toolkit and other goodies that will help make the Apple II look like a Macintosh. And we won't have to wait long for a mouse-based Pinball Construction Set.
Other developers are working on converting existing software for use with mice. The Electronic Arts personal productivity line will use the mouse, as will the graphics series from Penguin Software.
Not every program will benefit from mouse technology, however. Where keyboard use is vital, a mouse interface is a luxury.
Other than the conversion of existing software, what does the future hold? Are there any applications that are perfect for a mouse interface? One potentially intriguing area is in communication for the motor-impaired. One system of communication, called Bliss Symbolics, uses iconic representations of different actions and words. A hand pointer is moved across the board, and the symbols are read and interpreted by another person.
A mouse is just a pointer. With a speech synthesizer, intelligent software, and the Apple II Mouse, the disabled would be able to better communicate with the world. The software could collect the symbols and print or speak complete sentences. The relative low-cost and ease of use of an Apple II makes such a system practical.
The real test of the mouse will be on the Macintosh or the Lisa. Those systems demand a mouse interface. The Apple II will be the proving ground. If intelligent software is written, and if the $149 price tag isn't seen as too high, the Apple II Mouse should have a long, prosperous life.
Products: Apple II Mouse (computer apparatus)