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The Evolution of The Mouse

Published on 12 April 18
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Your humble computer mouse with its sleek lines wasn’t always that sexy and curvy. Once upon a time they were boxy and ugly. They were literally just boxes with buttons and a ball, connected to your computer with a cord. When graphical user interfaces (GUIs) used by operating systems such as Windows replaced text-based interfaces, the mouse became the input device of choice. That is still the case with desktop computers, although laptops have employed other ways of moving a cursor across a screen. These have included trackballs, trackpoints, and most commonly now, trackpads. But with the increasing popularity and power of tablet computers, touch screens are threatening to render mice obsolete. But while they’re still around, let’s look back at their history.

The Evolution of The Mouse - Image 1
The rise of the rodent
The mouse is essentially a two-dimensional pointing device. It evolved from the trackball, which was first developed in 1946 to control the British Royal Navy’s Comprehensive Display System. It was used to monitor a search radar. Initially a joystick was used, but the trackball offered a more elegant control solution.

The first prototype mouse was developed in 1964. It didn’t use a ball, but rather wheels. The first ball mouse followed shortly afterward in 1968, when Telefunken’s Rollkugel was developed for use with the SIG-100 terminal.

The earliest computer with a mouse and a GUI was the Xerox Alto, introduced in 1973. But it was only from about a decade later that home computers like the Apple Macintosh released the mouse from obscurity.
Getting comfortable
Throughout the 80s and early 90s, mice were ugly, gray, boxy affairs. Then aesthetics and ergonomics started becoming more important. Their lines became sleeker, and they became more comfortable to hold. In the quest to improve ergonomics, some manufacturers have come up with rather extreme and radical designs. Some of the most extreme have been vertical mice, that you can hold without turning your palm flat. A lot of less extreme solutions are just tilted enough to keep the wrist in a natural position. The problem with this is that most ergonomic mice are made only for right-handed users. The rest have to make do with less comfortable symmetrical mice.
The great castration
One of the greatest advancements in the functionality of mice was the development of optical mice. The problem with mechanical ball mice was that their rollers accumulated gunk over time, and had to be cleaned often to keep the ball from sticking. But it took some time for optical mice to become anything less than a curiosity. Initially they only tracked well on certain surfaces. They also had more latency. But both those concerns have long been addressed, and today you won’t find any mice with balls anymore.
Cutting the cord
Most mice nowadays still have cords. Although cordless technology has been around for a while, they are still just a more expensive alternative to corded mice. The biggest benefit to having a cordless mouse is that you’re free from wires. Modern wireless technology largely makes them just as accurate and responsive as corded mice. But they sometimes suffer from the added weight of a battery. And they’re also useless when the battery has been depleted. Better models come with a charging dock, though.
Your humble computer mouse with its sleek lines wasn’t always that sexy and curvy. Once upon a time they were boxy and ugly. They were literally just boxes with buttons and a ball, connected to your computer with a cord. When graphical user interfaces (GUIs) used by operating systems such as Windows replaced text-based interfaces, the mouse became the input device of choice. That is still the case with desktop computers, although laptops have employed other ways of moving a cursor across a screen. These have included trackballs, trackpoints, and most commonly now, trackpads. But with the increasing popularity and power of tablet computers, touch screens are threatening to render mice obsolete. But while they’re still around, let’s look back at their history.

The Evolution of The Mouse - Image 1

The rise of the rodent

The mouse is essentially a two-dimensional pointing device. It evolved from the trackball, which was first developed in 1946 to control the British Royal Navy’s Comprehensive Display System. It was used to monitor a search radar. Initially a joystick was used, but the trackball offered a more elegant control solution.

The first prototype mouse was developed in 1964. It didn’t use a ball, but rather wheels. The first ball mouse followed shortly afterward in 1968, when Telefunken’s Rollkugel was developed for use with the SIG-100 terminal.

The earliest computer with a mouse and a GUI was the Xerox Alto, introduced in 1973. But it was only from about a decade later that home computers like the Apple Macintosh released the mouse from obscurity.

Getting comfortable

Throughout the 80s and early 90s, mice were ugly, gray, boxy affairs. Then aesthetics and ergonomics started becoming more important. Their lines became sleeker, and they became more comfortable to hold. In the quest to improve ergonomics, some manufacturers have come up with rather extreme and radical designs. Some of the most extreme have been vertical mice, that you can hold without turning your palm flat. A lot of less extreme solutions are just tilted enough to keep the wrist in a natural position. The problem with this is that most ergonomic mice are made only for right-handed users. The rest have to make do with less comfortable symmetrical mice.

The great castration

One of the greatest advancements in the functionality of mice was the development of optical mice. The problem with mechanical ball mice was that their rollers accumulated gunk over time, and had to be cleaned often to keep the ball from sticking. But it took some time for optical mice to become anything less than a curiosity. Initially they only tracked well on certain surfaces. They also had more latency. But both those concerns have long been addressed, and today you won’t find any mice with balls anymore.

Cutting the cord

Most mice nowadays still have cords. Although cordless technology has been around for a while, they are still just a more expensive alternative to corded mice. The biggest benefit to having a cordless mouse is that you’re free from wires. Modern wireless technology largely makes them just as accurate and responsive as corded mice. But they sometimes suffer from the added weight of a battery. And they’re also useless when the battery has been depleted. Better models come with a charging dock, though.

This blog is listed under Peripherals Community

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