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A Brief History of Computer Mice

written by: Chad Anderson•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 2/23/2011

Ever wonder about the evolution of the modern mouse, but don't want to read all of the nerdy details? Read this brief history to learn about the inventor of the computer mouse, key points in the development of the modern pointing device and where the device is headed.

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    The Beginning of Computer Aided Pointing Devices (or Mice) - The Inventor of the Computer Mouse

    The modern mouse, for the desktop computer, was not introduced until 1984 and came with the Apple Macintosh. However, this modern version had been preceded by a number of computer aided pointing devices dating back to the original trackball, invented in 1952. In 1963, the word mouse was coined with Douglas Engelbart's patent of an early pointing device that largely resembled our modern mechanical and optical mice. Engelbart was the inventor of the computer mouse and he called the device a mouse because the cord, coming out the back, resembled the same tail found on the animal. Finally, the modern mouse grew out of Engelbart's design when his original engineer, Bill English, developed the mechanical ball mouse in 1972 at Xerox. The mechanical ball mouse would go on to become the standard in personal computing.

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    Early Implementations of Mechanical Ball Mice

    Although mice were being commercially sold as early as 1975 by The Mouse House, the first personal computer to come with a mouseApple Macintosh Plus Mouse  was released in 1981 by Xerox. Since personal computing did not really catch on until the release of the Apple Macintosh in 1984, a lot of the credit for the pointing device ends up going to Apple. These early mice used a serial port to interface with a machine, only to be replaced by the, later ubiquitous and now extinct, rounded PS/2 port in 1987. Although there were multiple implementations, the typical mechanical ball mouse used a number of light beams to measure movement of the ball and provide accurate positioning information to the computer. Throughout this time the trackball remained a somewhat popular alternative to the mechanical ball mouse. By now, the trackball has all but disappeared.

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    Modern Optical Mice

    One of the biggest annoyances of the classic mechanical ball mouse was that you would occasionally have to open up the back and clean all of the gross stuff from your desk or mousepad off of the ball. This was fixed by the now ubiquitous optical mouse that used light-emitting diodes to detect surface movement instead of movement of a ball mechanism. Although this reduces the amount of surfaces that a mouse can be used on, the convenience is well worth the trade. With the move to modern optical mice also came the move to USB from PS/2 and eventually to the wireless Bluetooth protocol. Now, most any corded desktop peripheral uses a USB interface of some kind.

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    The Future of Pointing

    Like all things computing, the way we interact with and accomplish work on our machines is under constant evolution. While the optical mouse reigns supreme for now, new devices like Microsoft's Kinect and the Wii Remote are changing the way we interact with computers. Although the Kinect and Wii Remote are still largely used for gaming, many have written third-party drivers for interfacing the devices with their computers for use as pointing and navigation devices. Even Microsoft admits that they want to produce some sort of personal computing device that uses the Kinect technology. Even further, with the move to touchscreen and tablet devices, the mouse is being replaced with simple touch menu navigation.

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    New York Times: Microsoft Kinect: The New Mouse? -

    STIM: MouseSite -

    Photograph from Wikimedia Commons. (Attribution: