What is the purpose of a mousepad?
January 26, 2010 1:59 PM   Subscribe

What is the purpose of a mousepad? Is it to protect the mouse or the surface that the mouse is used on? Does a computer mouse (optic) get damaged if not used with a mousepad?
posted by oracle bone to Technology (32 answers total)
it provides a non-reflective surface so your mouse works better
posted by Eicats at 2:00 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

It used to be that you wanted to good surface for the mouse ball to catch and roll on in addition to protecting your desktop. Now, in addition to protecting your desktop, you need a surface that won't reflect in such a way that will screw up your sensors. It isn't as necessary as it used to be, a lot of people probably still use them out of habit.
posted by cimbrog at 2:02 PM on January 26, 2010

It's from back in the days of mice with balls when a slick desktop would render your mouse erratic.
posted by GuyZero at 2:03 PM on January 26, 2010

Mousepads used to be a must back in that days of mechanical mice (with balls and rollers). These days they are not required at all unless the surface is very shiny since optical mice work with just about everything. Most modern mice slip around on Teflon (or similar) supports that will not damage most desktops.
posted by AndrewStephens at 2:04 PM on January 26, 2010

My wireless mouse, which sits on a glass top over the wood on my desk, doesn't work right if it's not on something other than the glass. And the laser never deactivates so the battery dies in short time.

Also, the sound of a mouse sliding directly on a wood desk makes my teeth hurt.
posted by The World Famous at 2:14 PM on January 26, 2010

This post prompted an unpleasant flashback to the days of mechanical mice, regularly having to take out the ball and scrape the accumulated goop off the rollers. Thank goodness for the further advance of technology.
posted by tippiedog at 2:16 PM on January 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

For some people, it's also a boundary to keep the mouse within, and they will adjust the speed of the mouse so that it is relative to the size of the pad - when it's on the left of the pad, it's on the left of the screen, etc. (My brain is wired this way... my hand / eye coordination insists on a direct coorelation between the pad and the screen, even when I can pick the mouse up and move it to get more distance.)
posted by GJSchaller at 2:23 PM on January 26, 2010

A decade ago Steve Jobs told me I no longer needed a mousepad, so I stopped using one. My composite Ikea desk has a nice big splotch where the mouse wore away the finish over time. Thanks, Steve!
posted by thejoshu at 2:27 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

nthing thejoshu second to last sentence. I've worn away the finish on the top of my desk as well.

I still don't use a mousepad though.
posted by royalsong at 2:30 PM on January 26, 2010

I don't use a mouse pad at work and after four years the optical mouse is fine. I have, however, worn small patches of the desk surface (cheap wood laminate). Clearly I mouse too hard!

I do use a mouse pad at home because I don't like the feel of the desk surface (I think it's malamine?) and the mouse glides better over the pad's surface. But that's personal choice and the mouse works fine on the desk itself. Or on my leg when I'm sitting in front of the TV, heh. Oh and my mouse pad at home is cute with a funny saying on it which makes me smile.

They are a throwback to the rollerball days as others have said and I wonder if we'd started with optical ones if we would ever have invented the pad. But now they're around there is some utility for some people so they don't disappear. I don't think it's for the actual mouse though, more for the user (or possibly, for weirdos like me, for the poor desk).
posted by shelleycat at 2:36 PM on January 26, 2010

Some people use special mouse pads which provide wrist support in hopes of avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:44 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I use a Curious George mouse pad because I like Curious George. The purpose of this mouse pad is to amuse me.
posted by fixedgear at 2:52 PM on January 26, 2010 [6 favorites]

My cubicle workstation has a tray with a built-in mousing surface that pre-dates modern mice. While I'm sure it would have worked great with a ball mouse, the surface and/or pattern renders optical and laser mice insane, so we all revert to the cheapest, plain-color mouse pads we can find.
posted by sageleaf at 2:56 PM on January 26, 2010

I need to use a mouse pad with the wrist support, otherwise my wrist will hurt after using the mouse for more than an hour.

This post prompted an unpleasant flashback to the days of mechanical mice, regularly having to take out the ball and scrape the accumulated goop off the rollers. Thank goodness for the further advance of technology.

I actually miss that. I LOVED cleaning out the mouse when I was growing up. But I'm also one of those people who likes to pick at everything, even my boyfriend's blackheads and zits.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 3:00 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't recommend enough my new favorite mousepad. I use a legal pad turned 90 degrees to landscape orientation as a mouse pad. Combined with a pen on the desk, I have instant capture all day. I think the paper is a decent mousing surface, though it may be a bit too tacky for your taste. The best part is that when it gets gross or full of scatterbrained notes, you rip off the top sheet and have a brand new mouse pad!
posted by goHermGO at 3:01 PM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Way, way back in the day, Sun had an optical mouse that required a special mousepad to work at all. (pic) Like sageleaf said, I bet this would drive modern optical mice nuts.
posted by smackfu at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2010

Oh man, I hated those goddamn SUN mice. If you angled it past 5 degrees of square it stopped working. GRAR.
posted by GuyZero at 3:34 PM on January 26, 2010

All the above. Also, there are cordless mice that use capacitive technology to detect the mouse location. These require active, powered mouse pads. Wacom tablets use this technology.

Mostly these days the point of a mouse pad is to sell more mouse pads.
posted by chairface at 3:53 PM on January 26, 2010

I think now the point is to have a place to keep great pictures of flowers, Star Trek/Wars spaceships, sports logos, company slogans, landscapes, alma mater crests, architecture, fine art reproductions, one's own kids, snarky sayings, and kitties and puppies.
posted by The Potate at 4:16 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Really the only functional purpose a mouse pad has these days is to provide a slick and even surface for the mouse to slide on.

You won't damage an optical mouse if you don't use a mouse pad. The latest generation of mice from Logitech and Microsoft really can work on any surface, including glass.
posted by kenliu at 4:42 PM on January 26, 2010

my mousepad at home is a square of fabric cut from an old pair of jeans - because my stupid optical mouse won't work correctly on my lapdesk - I'm not sure what it's made of but it's made to look like pine... So the purpose of my mousepad is to get my stupid mouse to work.
posted by patheral at 4:47 PM on January 26, 2010

I use a mouse pad because I have sweaty hands and my peripherals build up a nice layer of handsludge pretty quickly. Even without a rollerball to attract schmutz, my work mouse would gather stuff under it until it made a really grating sound against the desk.

Man, I'm gross.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:04 PM on January 26, 2010

At work, I prefer the movement of the optical mouse on a mousepad. At home, I use the touchpad for everything except minesweeper. .
posted by theora55 at 5:15 PM on January 26, 2010

On my desk at home I use a flexible plastic cutting board from Ikea. It's a nice smooth surface for the mouse, plus, it's got a lot of real estate. And I only have to use something because my desk is made out of glass.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:54 PM on January 26, 2010

2 reasons.

1. To keep the desktop from wearing out. Even with teflon pads, little bits of dirt are always there and will wear the laminate off the desk surface. Related: it stops the horrid noise!

2. To keep the teflon pads on the mouse from wearing out. Yes, they do wear out.

Also, a mouse pad is easy to toss in the sink and scrub with some detergent and a brush. A desk? Mine doesn't fit in my sink.
posted by KenManiac at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2010

Gamers have specialty mousepads that are usually cut from metal and are larger than a standard desk mousepad. Some have different amounts of "grit" on each side, so you get faster movements on one side or more control when it is flipped over.

I remember my grandfather had one of the really early optical mice that needed the special mousepad. Like the above Sun example, but for consumer use.
posted by ijoyner at 6:50 PM on January 26, 2010

It doesn't damage the mouse, but it's unbelievably frustrating to try using an optical mouse on a glass or wood-grain desk without a mousepad.
posted by Xany at 7:03 PM on January 26, 2010

I had to put Mac-Tac (removable vinyl sheets) on my worn-out laminate desk; something about the pattern of particle board and remaining black stripes caused my optical mouse to lose its bearings / slow down. So yeah, to me they're still necessary.

A good gel wrist pad does wonders for wrist fatigue, whether you have carpal tunnel or not.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 8:11 PM on January 26, 2010

I use my mouse pad to tell the future

*not actually my pad, mine is a little dingier and has that spot on it where I spilled a little soda...
posted by pupdog at 11:47 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yeah, similar to goHermGO, I use a pad of paper as a mousepad. It saves the desk and I can get a new surface when the old one gunks up by turning the page. It incidentally serves as my phone pad too. Works great for me.
posted by bonehead at 8:14 AM on January 27, 2010

Those old sun mice would also work on a pair of jeans.
posted by yohko at 10:46 PM on January 27, 2010

Wood grain confuses a fair number of optical mice, or at least it used to, a nice fine texture (paper or cloth) fixes the problem.
posted by anaelith at 7:13 AM on January 28, 2010

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