It only makes sense to follow last week's "Best Mouse Ever" review on Maximum PC with a listing of some of the best freeware and open-source tools for making the most of your handheld input device--or, in layman's terms, the mouse.
If you think that's an easy task, than I have a golden, $500 mouse with your name on it. Simply put, there's just not that much love for the ol' mouse in today's software world. I suppose that makes sense, however. I have a flashy gaming mouse, yet, the only real software I used to extend its functionality is the very app, shipped by the manufacturer, that helps me customize said mouse's buttons. That's all you need, right?
I have indeed managed to find five apps that do their part to enhance your one-handed experience with your computer. At the end of the day, I'd still opt for a flashier mouse over a new piece of software when it comes to really making your input device rock. However, that's not to say that these programs aren't cool or useful in their own rights. Give ‘em a shot and let me know what you think in the comments!
I'll lead off with a fancy one. IOGraph does absolutely nothing to enhance the performance of your mouse, your mouse inputs, your system, or any of that--this app is pure art. Fire up the program and let it run in the background of your system. As you go about your daily computing activities, IOGraph will record the patterns your mouse makes in the style of ink blots and stray lines--the more your mouse stays in one particular location throughout the day, the larger the "blot" or "circle" will appear on the final product. Useful? Not really. Cool as heck? You betcha.
If you have a mouse with DPI-sensitivity buttons included in the grand picture, then congratulations--you might not have need for the services that the freeware app SlowMousion provides. However, don't throw this paragraph out just yet. Depending on how you've set your sensitivities, you might very well benefit from this app's chief function-slowing down your normal mouse speed to a crawl whenever you hold down a specific keyboard or mouse button. It's ideal for moments when you need super-fine precision over your cursor, like Photoshopping up awesome pictures or "pwning" new players in your favorite first-person shooter.
You're going to hate this one... maybe. HeadMouse 2 is a fairly interesting application that transforms your webcam and noggin' into a virtualized input device. Slap your webcam into 640-by-480 camera mode and launch the app. You'll then be able to control your mouse by looking around your screen (eat it, Microsoft Kinect). Should you want to get flashier, you can actually set up different facial expressions to serve as the mouse's actions: blinking your eyes in succession can become a double-click, for example.
One caveat: This app only appears to work in XP and Vista for sure. If you dare, give ‘er a whirl on Windows 7 and let me know how you fared in using the power of your skull to move your mouse around! And let me know when you want to square off in an Unreal Tournament heads-only match.
Want an easier way to launch applications or shortcuts? Hot Corners transforms the edges of your screen into individual launchers, capable of firing up a given application or command whenever you move your mouse a specific corner of your display. It's that easy. But don't expect that your Windows OS will pop up Windows Explorer every time you nudge your mouse anywhere near the northwest corner of your screen. Hot Corners allows you to set its sensitivity for matching your movements to your predefined shortcuts--up to eight total!
And, no, this application doesn't come with a virus in it--total false-positive.
Anyone can assign actions to mouse buttons; that's easy. But it's a bit trickier to assign customized actions to your mouse buttons based on the various programs that you can launch--or, to put it another way, Windows doesn't give you a good method for customizing your mouse-based shortcuts for all the different applications you use. That's where X-Mouse Button Control comes into play. This app will recognize other applications running on your system and give you the opportunity to assign specific actions to your buttons for each app. It's a super-helpful tool for those looking to squeak every bit of functionality out of their PCs... just so long as you remember which action corresponds to which button in which program!
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!