Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Mousing Surface Theory

Hi there. I want to talk to you about ducts.*

Terry Gilliam's Brazil - Introductory scene with Central Services duct salesperson

Sorry, when I said ducts, I meant mousepads.

As I have a long-standing mouse fetish, you might not be surprised to learn that I also fetishize the humble mousepad, as well. It's all perfectly healthy. Really.

Let's start with the obvious: do you even need a mousepad? It's a fair question. Are you using a traditional mouse? Maybe you're using a trackball, trackpad, trackpoint, or something else with the word "track" in it. If so, then thanks for reading this far. Come back for my next post.

For the rest of us using standard computer mice, consider the following questions:

  1. Is your mousing surface uneven?
  2. Does your mousing surface have an inconsistent texture?
  3. Does your mousing surface interfere with the optical LED or laser sensors in modern mice?
  4. Are you concerned that your present mousing surface will be damaged or marred from extended mousing?
  5. Do you struggle to find enough room to move your mouse?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you should probably have a mousepad. The average desktop often does not provide a consistent mousing surface; a well-designed mousepad does. That is its purpose: to stake out a consistent, reliable, and durable mousing surface on your desktop.

Believe me, I'd love to be a minimalist and go without any kind of mousepad, but I always end up needing one. I started wearing a permanent mark in my beloved Ikea Jerker desk with my mousing here at home, for example. I've also found that extended mousing leaves behind an unpleasant-but-cleanable residue, and I'd rather clean the mousepad than my desk.

Now that we've established the need for a mousing surface, it's time to decide exactly what you want:

  • a wrist rest?
  • raised and thick or low-profile and thin?
  • smooth or textured?
  • metal, glass, cloth, or plastic?
  • small, medium, large, or obscenely large in size?
  • square, rectangular, circular, or some other shape?

And that's before we get into issues of color and style.

The world is awash in hundreds of mousing surface choices, and they're all valid. If you consider the above questions, you can narrow it down substantially. I do have two broad recommendations, however.

I'm a big fan of the Razer Exactmat. If you want a relatively large mousepad, this 10.4" x 13" model is one of my favorites. It's built on a low-profile metal base to resist bending, with plastic inserts on each side. It's reversible: one side is "speed" (smooth), the other "control" (textured). It also bundles an optional wrist rest sized to nestle perfectly against the bottom of the pad.

Razer Exactmat

If you're not into the whole noir thing, it also comes in white. And if you don't care for wrist rests, like me, you can pick up the Razer Exactmat mousepad alone.

If you're looking for something more basic, I can also recommend the XTrac series, specifically the hard plastic models. They're credit-card thin, rubber backed, and come in a variety of sizes. I have one literally glued to my desk right now with removable spray adhesive. The extreme thinness makes the XTrac a logical, permanent extension of my Jerker desk.

xtrac mousepads

I don't recommend the cloth branch of the XTrac family tree (or any mousing surface, for that matter), though Dan thought they worked surprisingly well. The hard plastic models I recommend are the Hammer (11" x 17"), Pro HS (8.5" x 11"), and Micro (7" x 8.75").

I am not proposing either the above as the final mousing surface solution. These are two I've found to work for what I want out of a mousing surface. There are plenty of other great mousing surfaces out there. I've heard Scott Hanselman say very nice things about the unusual circular WOW!PAD, for example.

I could also talk about how I lubricate my mice feet and mousepads, but then I'd worry that people might think I've gone too far with my mouse fetish. I don't want to distract. It's my hope that after reading this, you'll be able to tell a well-designed, quality mousing surface from the cheap, floppy things that are mousepads in name only.

* Do your ducts seem old-fashioned? Out of date? Central Services' new duct designs are now available in hundreds of different colors to suit your individual tastes. Hurry now, while stocks last, to your nearest Central Services showroom. Designer colors to suit your demanding tastes.

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: http://twitter.com/codinghorror