Since its inception in the mid-'60s, the "mouse," as it came to be known, has morphed and mutated into a diverse assortment of styles to accommodate efficiency, ergonomics and portability. In this week's Rewind we surf through the history of the device from its humble beginnings to its current futuristic incarnations.
During the "Mother of All Demos" in 1968, Stanford Research Institute's Douglas Engelbart introduced the world to a variety of computer technology and interface breakthroughs. Among the items on display was his computer mouse prototype, which had been built in 1964. Back then, it was more formally known as the "X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System." It had two wheels underneath a wooden shell, one for horizontal and one for vertical movement. The patent SRI submitted was approved in 1970 and eventually licensed to companies like Apple and Xerox.
At about the same time SRI was developing its "mouse," the Telefunken company in Germany was underway on a similar project. Its design was actually a ball-type mechanism (like later mechanical mice), instead of a dual-wheel, X-Y system. The "Rollkugel" (rolling ball), although similar to SRI's model, was developed independently.
The Alto -- one of the first "desktop" computers -- was developed at the Xerox PARC facility and distributed to users in 1973. While these personal workstations never became a commercial product -- mostly used at Xerox facilities and universities -- they did include a version of SRI's unique interface. Alto users quickly became fans of using a mouse and validated its potential in the market.
Dropping the ball
While many mouse devices embraced the ball-style mechanism, there was a bit of an issue with dust and dirt clogging the insides. Around 1981, Steven Kirsch developed an optical model for Mouse Systems, with Xerox's Richard Lyon creating a similar version that same year. Instead of a ball, these mice used light to track movement. But there was a catch -- they required a specially tailored mouse pad (or a surface with the right pattern) for them to work.
Steve Jobs had been excited after first seeing the mouse interface while visiting the Xerox PARC facility in 1979. This inspired him to include a similar device on the 1983 Apple Lisa -- one of the first commercial computers to have one. A similar version with chamfered edges was also bundled with the 1984 Macintosh system.
In the years after the mouse arrived, its design evolved to incorporate the scroll wheel. The 1996 Microsoft IntelliMouse was one of the most popular examples to include one. By 1999, the company switched to an optical (LED) design instead of the traditional ball mechanism. Sure, this nut had been cracked back in the 1981, but this was the first time an optical mouse could be used without a special pad.
Having a ball
The trackball, a mouse style that used an exposed sphere that could be rotated to manipulate an onscreen cursor, had been pioneered back in the 1950s as part of a Canadian military project called DATAR. In 2000, Microsoft added that tech to its breakthrough in optical tracking for its new Trackball Explorer and Trackball Optical devices. Both used a prominent, colorful orb for precision tracking with fingers or thumbs, respectively. The Explorer model has become quite the collectible; if you can stomach the markup, it can usually still be found online.
Apple continued to develop its own line of mouse controllers, but had avoided interface flourishes in favor of design. In 1998, the company released its first USB mouse with the iMac series, but the round design left most users unimpressed and severely cramped -- earning it the nickname of "hockey puck." In 2000, Apple launched its Apple Pro mouse, which was encased in clear plastic, ditching the visible single button in exchange for a whole-body click mechanism.
Tron goes to Redmond
Apple wasn't the only company leveraging design to sell products. In 2004, Microsoft released its own futuristic offering called the Optical Mouse by S+ARCK. This sleek version was designed by Philippe Starck, marking the first foray into artistically styled devices for the company. It was also great for lefties with its symmetrical build.
More than meets the eye
Sony has offered a variety of sleek and unique mouse devices for its VAIO line over the years, but few were as convergent as the 2006 Mouse Talk (VN-CX1) interface. This USB-connected controller did the Transformer two-step when you were ready to hop onto a Skype call. It conveniently merged the classic flip-phone format with a slim and portable mouse. The scroll wheel even switched to a volume controller while chatting.
Mouse to go
The increasing selection of portable computers drove mouse manufactures to find new ways of shrinking down their devices to match. Back in 1984, Logitech had been one of the first to develop a cordless mouse for the Metaphor computer, but it would take fresh innovation to stand out in the new millennium. In 2005, Newton Peripherals released its MoGo Bluetooth mouse, which was a super-slim card-like design. When not doing its mouse duties, this wireless device could be slipped inside a laptop's PC Card slot for storage and charging.
There are a variety of ring-sized, mouselike devices in the works today, but back in 2008, Simtrix released its own series of micro manipulators for your on-screen cursor. The Swiftpoint TriPed actually served as a mouse and pen-like input device, while the Slider surfed across your keys, letting you mouse and type without leaving the keypad area.
Mighty and magical
Apple improved on its Pro mouse in 2005 by releasing a version with a multi-direction scroll ball, touch-sensitive "two-button" clicking and programmable side buttons for further access. In 2009, it slimmed down the form factor even further with its Magic Mouse. The whole glossy top was a gestural input device, letting you scroll and click just about anywhere on its surface.
A new twist
Microsoft pushed the envelope again in 2010 with its flexible Arc mouse. This model could be flattened out for travel and storage, then bent back into a curved shape to fit the cupped palm of your hand. It had a touch-sensitive scroll bar and two clickable buttons at the front, while the rest of the body allowed for its flexibility. Its "BlueTrack" technology boasted that it could be used on rough wood surfaces and even carpet.
Mouse design went into overdrive in 2012 with the partnership of BMW and Thermaltake. Their Level 10 M gaming mouse was a hyper-industrial construction that offered angle adjustability, a vented palm rest, customizable buttons and an aluminum chassis.
A mouse with a home
Regardless of the designs, every mouse (and hand for that matter) deserves to be comfortable and cozy. To that end, Japanese gadget maker Thanko delivered a heated mousepad in 2010 to help fight off the chill and keep your digits limber and toasty.
Gallery: The 'mouse' and its many mutations | 15 Photos
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