First Computer Mouse Unveiled 40 Years Ago Today

The computer mouse is celebrating its 40th birthday today.

The creator of the mouse, Douglas Engelbart debuted his first prototypes of the now-familiar device in 1963 at Stanford Research Institute. He then showcased his creation to the public in 1968.

Engelbart presented what some have called “the mother of all demos,” outlining concepts that would presage the next 40 years of computing, including the use of a three-button palm-sized contraption called a “mouse.”

Since that time, numerous companies like Xerox, Apple, Microsoft, and Logitech have spent millions refining the form and function of the mouse. They’ve since changed its number of buttons, changed the interfaces by which mice connect to computers, and tinkered with new methods of tracking movement.

But despite four decades of commercial evolution, computer users today handle the mouse in much the same way Engelbart did 40 years ago: as an ingeniously efficient and easy-to-use pointing device.

However, as the 40-year celebration of the mouse comes around, many are suggesting the demise of the mouse at the hands of touch screens and speech recognition. But as long as computers require hands-on input from humans, we’ll probably have a nook on our desks reserved for our small electronic friends.

Even forty years later, the mouse has become an indispensable tool for computer input, and its excellence at certain tasks means that it will likely be with us for some time to come.

A timeline history of the mouse:

1982: Steve Kirsch invents an optical mouse that requires a mousepad with a grid printed on it for tracking. He founds Mouse Systems in 1982 to sell the first commercial optical mouse and later provides precision mice for Sun workstations, among others.

Logitech sells its first mouse, the P4, designed by Jean-Daniel Nicoud. This dome-shaped device, among the first commercial mice available, sells for $299.

1983: With permission from Xerox, Jack Hawley founds Mouse House to refine and sell his original Xerox mouse design. The boxlike, three-button Hawley X063X uses brush contact encoder wheels and costs about $400.

Apple’s first commercial mouse goes public as part of the Apple Lisa system. The mouse uses a squeeze-release DE-9 connector and notably features only one button””a controversial design decision that would remain the hallmark of Apple mice for 22 years.

Microsoft ships its first IBM PC mouse, retailing for $195. The two-button mouse initially requires a special peripheral card for use but later supports connection through a PC’s serial port.

1984: Apple ships a one-button mouse with the original Macintosh featuring a new exterior redesign. It features a nine pin DE-9 connector with thumb screws to secure the connector in place. Functionally, the mouse operates nearly identically to its Lisa predecessor.

Logitech designs the world’s first cordless mouse as part of the obscure Metaphor computer system. The battery-powered mouse uses infrared light (like a TV remote control) to communicate with a base receiver unit. Various companies try a similar IR technique over the years, but it never takes off.

1986: Apple introduces a new way of connecting mice and keyboards””Apple Desktop Bus (ADB)””with the launch of the Apple IIgs, and on the Mac SE a year later. Not surprisingly, Apple releases a new wedge-shaped mouse for the bus called the Apple Desktop Bus Mouse.

1987: IBM introduces the PS/2 line of PCs, which feature the world’s first PS/2 mouse connectors. These connectors later become a standard in the PC-clone world.

1991: Logitech releases the world’s first wireless mouse to use radio frequency (RF) transmission, the Cordless MouseMan. Unlike infrared (IR) cordless solutions, Logitech’s mouse does not require line-of-sight with a base station to work.

1993: Honeywell introduces a unique mouse tracking concept with its Opto-Mechanical mouse. Instead of a rolling ball, the mouse uses two small angled discs on its bottom that track movement.

Apple releases the Apple Desktop Bus Mouse II, which features a more ergonomic teardrop shape than its wedge-shaped predecessor. Otherwise, the mouse is functionally identical.

1995: Mouse Systems releases ProAgio, the first commercial mouse with a scroll wheel. Few people notice.

1996: Microsoft popularizes the scroll wheel with the release of the IntelliMouse Explorer. It features a rubberized plastic wheel placed between two standard mouse buttons that can also be pressed as a button. Rotating the wheel allows easy scrolling of windows, among other functions.

1998: The Apple “hockey puck” mouse ships with the original iMac. Aside from its ergonomically questionable saucer-shaped appearance, this mouse (formally titled Apple USB Mouse) is notable as the first Apple mouse to support the USB peripheral standard. Simultaneously, the iMac marks the beginning of the end of the ADB interface that graced Macs for 11 years.

1999: Agilent develops the first optical mouse sensor that works without need for a special pad, providing a breakthrough for the optical tracking revolution. This LED-based sensor and its successors would later be used in mice from Microsoft, Logitech, Apple, and dozens of other companies.

Microsoft releases its first optical mice. The IntelliMouse Explorer with IntelliEye ($70) features no less than five buttons and an optical tracking sensor that doesn’t require a special mouse pad. Microsoft also offers a simpler optical mouse for a lower price.

Following Logitech’s recent improvements in RF cordless technology, Microsoft releases its first RF wireless mouse, the Cordless Wheel Mouse, marking the beginning of a new wireless trend. Other peripheral makers follow suit with a new generation of more accurate and battery-efficient wireless mice.

2000: Apple releases the Pro Mouse, its first mouse with an optical tracking sensor. It features a monolithic surface button and a stylish translucent oblong shape.

2003: Apple releases its first wireless mouse, unsurprisingly titled the Apple Wireless Mouse. It uses Bluetooth as its wireless protocol, but it still has only one button.

2004: Logitech releases the first mouse to use a laser for optical tracking, the MX 1000. The laser tracking system, developed by Agilent, provides far greater accuracy than the previous LED-based optical tracking method.

2005: Apple releases the Mighty Mouse, its first mouse to feature more than one button (four, in fact). Ironically, the two main buttons are not physical, but instead use capacitive touch sensors with a tiny speaker to provide audible feedback for each click. The mouse also includes a scroll ball that lets users scroll in any direction.

2006: Apple releases the Wireless Mighty Mouse, which uses the Bluetooth wireless protocol.

2008: Logitech ships its one-billionth mouse since it began selling them in 1982.

Image Caption: Douglas Engelbart in 1984, showing two mice. Courtesy Wikipedia