I use a computer A LOT and RSI is (while not a problem yet) a big concern for me. My keyboard is a Microsoft Natural Elite - I hugely prefer the ergonomic design to that of a normal keyboard. So, it only makes sense for me have a pointing device which is equally ergonomic.

I have found that mice result in a lot of wrist movement. While I try to use the keyboard wherever possible, sometimes one just has to use the mouse. In an attempt to cut down on wrist movement and protect my precious ligaments, I indulged in a Microsoft Trackball Optical.

First things first, let's get over the unusual appearance of the trackball. If you've never used one before, it's a rather unusual sight, a bit like an upside-down mouse. Many trackballs are operated by the fingers, however this one is thumb operated, leaving button clicking to the fingers.

The trackball itself is monitored by an optical sensor, so while you still have the moving part that is the trackball, you do have optical precision - more on this in a bit.

Aesthetically, I like it! The grey is a break from beige and doesn't quite conform to the black/silver schools of PC peripheral design either. Size-wize, it dwarfs my Microsoft Wheelmouse Optical and will be bigger than pretty much any mouse out there.

Of course, while it is bigger than most mice, it uses less desk space, for the simple reason that it doesn't need to be moved!

So, what about actually using it?

Well, at either side of the two main buttons are function buttons. By default these act as forward and backward buttons in your web browser. It worked out of the box in Firefox for me. The buttons also appear to be configurable within games, under Windows XP, without any additional software installation. The scroll wheel is very nice. It doesn't rattle, it travels very smoothly and it feels nice and sturdy, the "middle click" only functioning when you want it to, rather than whenever your finger touches the wheel.

Now, onto the important part: the trackball. When I first started using it I was totally lost. I didn't have a clue how to hold it or use it properly. I quickly settled into using it, however. To start with, pointing precision is a little on the sloppy side, but this is primarily down to the user. As I became more apt with the trackball, my pointing accuracy improved dramatically. For general web surfing, office applications etc, this trackball works wonders.

Unfortunately, while fairly accurate, I do not feel it gives me the level of control I need for gaming or graphic design work. As such I continue to use my optical mouse for this. However, I do this a lot less, so my mouse is usually sat out of the way as I happily point away with the trackball.

Cleaning is a big issue with the trackball. It MUST travel smoothly if you are to stand a chance of being able to point properly. If it starts to stick when you try to move it or it doesn't travel well, you're in for a nightmare. I have not found dust to be much of a problem, very little collecting in the ball recess and what does can be cleaned away with ease. The real issue is grubby hands, and keeping the ball "oiled."

Yes, oiled. The trackball relies on the oil from your skin to help it glide. If the ball starts to stick a bit, but isn't dirty, oiling it can help. To do this, take it out and roll it around in your hands for a couple of minutes. If you clean the ball in some cleaning fluid, you'll have to re-oil it in this way too. When using the ball, don't use mucky of damp hands, as this will mess it up and make it stick.

So, all in all, this product is a godsend for day to day usage, greatly reducing the strain on my mousing wrist. However, it does require care and "oiling," and for some jobs just cannot substitute a mouse.

Kez gives the MS Trackball Optical 9/10