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History of the Computer Mouse

written by: Arnold Zafra•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 12/8/2009

By now, we don't have to describe what a computer mouse is and its purpose. We've been using it since ages ago. But have you ever wondered why that pointing device was called a "mouse" and what it's humble beginning was? Here's a brief historical look into our favorite computer device.

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    The Early Humble Beginnings of the Computer Mouse

    According to a Wikipedia entry, the name "mouse" was derived from the resemblance of the early models of this computer accessory to the well, what else but this common rodent. It was actually invented by a fellow at the Stanford Research Institute named Douglas Engelbart in 1963. Interestingly the poor fellow failed to re-register the patent before it became popular and widely used, so he didn't get any royalties from it.

    Before Engelbart, the Royal Canadian Navy had also invented a similar pointing device using a trackball for their DATAR system. An earlier iteration of the mouse as a pointing device was a bulky device which used two-gear wheels that are perpendicular to each other which translate into motion whenever they are rotated. And if you're wondering when the first fully integrated computer mouse was made available in the market, it was sometime in 1981, when the Xerox 8010 Star Information System came out packed with the first commercially produced computer mouse.

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    The Mechanical Mice Era

    In 1972, a technician named Bill English who happens to be the creator of Engelbart's computer mouse created his own ball mouse. He was then working at Xerox PARC and his ball mouse was used for the Xerox Alto computer. English's mouse uses chopped beams of light that passes through sensors which mimics the motion of a ball. Hence this mouse resembled an inverted trackball. Fortunately for English, his mouse became the most widely used mechanism for the succeeding generations of computer mice during the 1980's and 1990's. In 1975, ball mice and wheel mice were commercially manufactured by Jack Hawley for Xerox and became popular as well.

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    Enter the Optical Mice

    The modern mouse that we know today is what is now known as the optical mouse. This time around, the mouse now uses light-emitting diodes and photodiodes for detecting movement in relation to the surface. This is different from the mechanical mouse which rely on the movement of its parts. The optical mouse started to became popular as early as the 1980's. Among those early optical mice include the one created by Steve Kirsch of Mouse Systems Corporation which utilizes an infrared LED and infrared sensor for detecting grid lines that were printed with infrared absorbing ink. Another one was created by Richard F. Lyon which he later on sold to Xerox. Lyon's mouse utilized a 16-pixel visible-light image sensor with integrated motion detection on the same chip.From the early optical mice, we've reached the modern surface-independent optical mice which used an optoelectronic sensor which take pictures of the surface where the mouse operates. This was later on improved to be made of image-processing chips inside the mouse itself. This made the modern mouse easily detect relative motion.

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    Other Forms of the Optical Mice

    Other types of mice available today include; the infrared optical mouse, laser mouse, the inertial mouse and the 3D mouse which is also known as the flying mouse, bat or wand. This type of mice works with the help of ultrasound and started surfacing in the market as early as the 1990s.