Felix Mouse by Altra
My mouse lives somewhere off to the right of my keyboard, on a mouse pad that slithers around my desk on a cushion of loose paper. There's gotta be a better way to wrestle the cursor, and I don't mean clean up my desk! I've used trackballs, but they seem to require hand-eye coordination that eludes me (and they get grimy). Touchpads were better, until I found they made precision cursor movement something of a challenge. Whatever else I tried, I always came back to the mouse. Now I'm not so sure ? I?ve discovered FELIX, a mouse alternative from Altra.
Think of a white plastic model of the Enterprise?s main hull, about 5½" in diameter and an inch thick. Now imagine a white turtle (about the size of the kind you had as a kid) with a gray head sitting on the center of the hull. You?ve just created an image of Felix.
You use Felix by moving the turtle, which causes the cursor on your screen to move accordingly. Pressing on the turtle?s eyes (left or right) causes a left or right click. Pressing the turtle?s forehead is the equivalent of a simultaneous left and right click ? which seems to cause behavior like the new Intellimouse.
But I?m ahead of myself. When I got the box from Altra, it contained Felix (with a PS/2 mouse jack on its tail) and a DB9/PS/2 adapter for use with a standard serial port. Rounding out contents of the box were the Felix User?s Guide (a 4"x6" five-page foldout brochure), a two-page Quick Start Guide, and optional driver software on a 3½" floppy disk.
My first step was to studiously ignore any documentation; instead, I powered down my computer and plugged Felix into the hastily vacated mouse port. That done, I powered up the computer and ? voila ? I had a mouse cursor! When I tried to move the cursor, to see if the thing was alive, my fingers slid off the turtle (called a "control handle" by Altra) and the cursor shot off to the side. The next time I made sure my thumb was resting on one of the side tabs, my index finger was resting on the turtle?s forehead, and my other
fingers were somewhere near the other tab on the opposite side of the turtle. Now I was smoking. I could slide the turtle effortlessly all over, and the cursor covered the entire screen with only minute movements of my fingers. Great!
Now that I?d proven I could make this critter work, it was time to peruse the documentation to see what I?d missed. The first thing I noticed was that if I?d been using a bus mouse, this wouldn?t have worked ? Felix can link only to PS/2 or serial ports. A sort FAQ on the Quick Start leaflet told me that Felix would work with Windows 95/NT, and that drivers for both OS/2 and the Mac were on the way. It was refreshing, and somewhat startling, to see Altra?s ownership of operational problems. To the FAQ question, "What if I can?t get Felix to operate on my system?" Altra responded, "Do not try to reconfigure your software or hardware.
Leave Felix attached to your system, and call Technical Support". Wow! They actually recognize things might not work and invite you to get them to help. (Unfortunately, the support line isn?t a free 800 line ? you have to incur long distance charges, unless you want to try problem solving via email.)
The software driver that comes with Felix can be used in the rare case your computer figures out this is a new device and asks for an installation disk. Also included with this software is an "absolute driver" for precision cursor work, however this is available only for Windows 95 users. The software also comes with its own Uninstall utility ? nice.
After I?d been using Felix for a while, I began to notice some odd behavior that cooled my original ardor. When Windows is first invoked, Felix must assume you?re working with a screen size that must be either 640x480 or 800x600, because I found that my cursor wouldn?t travel the full width of my 1024x768 screen when Felix?s "handle" moved it?s full width. Instead, I had to hold Felix against each of its borders until the cursor moved (apparently of its own volition) to the edge of the screen. After a few minutes of this sort of behavior, Felix seemed to figure out your screen?s resolution, after which a quick movement of the handle would zip the cursor from side to side with ease. The same was true for cursor movement top to bottom. It would have helped if I could have told Felix what size my screen was so I didn?t have to train it each time I turned on Windows.
Next, I began to find that Felix?s buttons were finicky about how they were pressed. If I clicked with my finger slightly off-center, or if my finger slid off-center while I was dragging, the cursor would behave erratically. To make things worse, I found that the handle could get stuck against the edge of the casing if I didn?t lift my finger completely off the button. I?d sometimes have to jiggle the handle to free things up.
The last annoyance was confirmed when I loaned Felix to a woman in my office who?d been exhibiting carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms (I almost bit my tongue saying that mouthful!). I thought Felix?s unique movement would help her wrist, however she shared my opinion that Felix tended to make a person keep their wrist elevated during use. Although this did give the wrist a different kind of workout, it was tiring, and we both felt that an elevated wrist support would have been a good accessory to include with Felix. She
tried Felix for a couple of weeks, then asked for her old mouse back.
The bottom line? Felix offered an interesting alternative to traditional rodent massaging. In my opinion, there are still some design flaws (fussy buttons, sticking handle, training sessions) that need to be addressed by Altra. I have put my old Microsoft mouse back on it?s mouse-pad, and will continue to use it until I can try Felix?s younger sibling ? when and if it comes my way.
Altra, a development and marketing company based in Wyoming, hatched Felix out of a concept that originated in the 1980?s with KA Design Group, in Oakland, California. Dubbed the "Puck", in those days it was a miniaturized digitizing tablet coupled electronically to devices that controlled light sources for medical microscopy. In the late eighties, Lightgate Corp. (the renamed KA Design Group) redesigned the Puck for use with the Mac Plus and changed its name to Felix. After Lightgate folded due to unfortunate engineering
problems, one of its Directors (Ray Larsen) purchased rights to the Lightgate technology and, after a year?s intensive redesign, introduced in 1990 Altra?s first product ? Felix for the Apple Mac.
Felix Mouse by AltraESRB:
Platform: PC Games
Category: Mice & Trackballs