Computer History

The History of Computer Mouse

Many of today’s online transactions can be conveniently done with just a click of a mouse. Prior to the invention of the mouse, people were only using the keyboard as an input device. Imagine the struggle of memorizing a whole gamut of commands to perform the functions and operations using just a keyboard. Douglas Engelbart must’ve gone through the same struggle when he thought of inventing a device that would make things easier for computer operators.

A Mouse on the Wheels

Douglas Engelbart invented the very first mouse in 1964 at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Unlike today’s optical mouse, Engelbart’s invention used two perpendicular wheels enclosed in a wooden box, with one button on top. It can move from side to side and forwards and backward; thus, it was first called “X-Y position indicator for a display system.”[1] The name sounds too technical and lengthy for a layman to use. Hence, Bill English, the man who helped Engelbart build the device, used a mouse to refer to the device in his 1965 publication “Computer-Aided Display Control” [2] because of its resemblance to the small mammal.

Get the Ball Rolling

In 1968, German company Telefunken, led by Rainer Mallebrein, developed a mouse that used a rolling ball instead of wheels. It was called Rollkugel (rolling ball) and was an optional device for the SIG 100-86 computer system of Germany’s Federal Air Traffic Control.[3] Telefunken didn’t create any patent for the device and considered it unimportant at the time.

Billie English, while working at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), further developed Engelbart’s invention by replacing the wheels with a rolling ball in 1972. Infrared light and sensors were used to detect x and y directions. In addition, it used a 9-pin connector to send the signals to the computer. English’s version of the mouse rolled in with Xerox’s minicomputer system with a graphical user interface, Xerox Alto, the first computer released for individual use, and the first computer to use a mouse.[4] Because it’s far easier to explore the GUI with this small device, Xerox continued to include it as part of the package in their subsequent releases of personal computers. Now, this also piqued Apple’s interest, and made an agreement with Xerox to use their mouse for Macintosh computers.[5] Apple issued Macintosh computers with the device in 1984, and this further boosted the mouse’s popularity.

Turning the Ball to Light

Because of its ease of use, the ball mouse has become essential for computer users. However, it still has its downsides. Among it, and probably the most common, is its functionality being hampered when it starts to gather dirt, and users need to do some dismantling and cleaning for it to work again. This led to the evolution of the ball mouse to an optical mouse where Light Emitting Diodes (LED) and a light detector for motion detection replaced the ball. Some research was done in the early 1980s to use light instead of a ball to detect motion, but development halted due to high production cost. In 1988, Xerox, again, was the first to issue a computer with an optical mouse. The optical mouse invented by Lisa M. Williams and Robert S. Cherry of Xerox Microelectronics Center received a US patent and was released with Xerox STAR. Earlier developed optical mice, however, weren’t very popular as they required a special mouse pad for motion detection. Moreover, they also had one major limitation – the ability to detect motion in shiny or glass surfaces.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that an optical mouse that didn’t need a special mouse pad and had more surface tolerance was introduced to the market. Modern optical mice are embedded with optoelectronic sensors to take images of the surface and image-processing chips. This significant improvement made the mouse more ergonomic, eliminating the need to clean and the use of a mouse pad. Moreover, it’s no longer surface-dependent when detecting motion. The first mice to use such technology were Microsoft IntelliMouse with IntelliEye and IntelliMouse Explorer, both introduced in 1999.[6]

An Even Better Light

Just when everybody thought the mouse had reached its peak in terms of innovation, Sun Microsystems introduced a laser mouse. But it was mainly used with their servers and workstations. A laser mouse works just like an optical mouse, but instead of using LED, this variation uses infrared laser diodes to illuminate the surface where the mouse operates. This captures a more defined image of the surface and better precision than the optical mouse. Optical mice might have overcome much of its surface-related issues, but multi-colored surfaces may still affect its performance. Laser mice do not have such problems and can track on any kind of surface smoothly. Though it was first introduced in 1998, it wasn’t until 2004 that it infiltrated the consumer market when Logitech released the MX 1000 laser mouse.[7]

A Mouse Without A Tail

While there are limitless innovations on the motion detection aspect of the mouse, another part that manufacturers continue to work on is the mouse’s tail. From a 9-pin connector to a 6-pin PS/2 connector until it evolved to the now widely used wired mouse using a USB connection. But one significant innovation is the invention of the wireless mouse.

The use of wireless mice dates back to 1984 when Logitech released Logitech Metaphor operating on infrared signals. The advent of wireless technology brought about further improvement in its wireless capability. It was later on improved using radio signals such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Nowadays, wireless mice using USB receivers are becoming more and more popular. The latest innovation is the use of an even smaller receiver, the nano receiver.

How Far Can It Crawl?

The mouse, small as it is, has been around for over 50 years and no signs of becoming obsolete. On the contrary, it has become a necessity, wired and wireless alike, for computer users, even with the emergence of trackpads and touch screen computers. With continuing technological advancement, only time can tell what tomorrow’s mouse will be like.

Sources:

  1. Elin Gunnarson, “The History of The Computer Mouse”, Nov 6, 2019 https://www.soluno.com/computermouse-history/ Accessed 07 Oct 2020
  2. Wikipedia. “Computer Mouse”, N.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_mouse Accessed 07 Oct 2020
  3. Wikipedia. “Computer Mouse”, N.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_mouse Accessed 07 Oct 2020
  4. “The History of Computer Mouse”, N.d., https://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/613/the-history-of-the-computer-mouse/ Accessed 07 Oct 2020
  5. Elin Gunnarson, “The History of The Computer Mouse”, Nov 6, 2019 https://www.soluno.com/computermouse-history/ Accessed 07 Oct 2020
  6. “Optical Mouse”, N.d. http://www.edubilla.com/invention/optical-mouse/ Accessed 07 Oct 2020
  7. Wikipedia. “Optical Mouse”, N.d., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Optical_mouse Accessed 07 Oct 2020

About the author

Glynis Navarrete

A freelance blogger who loves to write about anything related to technology. Born and raised in the Philippines and worked in Singapore for eight years as Technical Support for a wide range of IT equipment. Took a dive into the world of freelancing and now enjoying doing what I’m passionate about while not losing touch with technology.