There are two kinds of people when it comes to computer mice. Those who can’t even open an email without one, and those who find they give you nothing but carpal tunnel syndrome. But all the same, this little piece of plastic is a helper with an unshakable position in almost every PC system. Did you know for example that Mickey Mouse measures their speed?
Back to the Stone Age
First a bit of history. The computer mouse, or what you might call its ancestor, was invented in the 1960s by Douglas Engelbart from Stanford Research Institute. He gave it the very romantic name “X-y position indicator for a display system” (Fig. 1).
The real pioneer in the use of a mouse — as we know it today — in a commercial environment was Apple, at the beginning of the 1980s. In 1983 they introduced the single-button Lisa Mouse. (Fig. 2) Incidentally, it’s an open secret that Steve Jobs “borrowed” this idea a bit from the Xerox PARC research center, where they’d developed a modern mouse as part of a computer system several years earlier, at the end of the 1970s. Microsoft was producing its own mouse in the same period as well (also in 1983). It was unique in two ways — it had two buttons, and it cost 195 dollars.
Firg 1: Engelbart's prototype of a computer mouse, as designed byBill English from Engelbart's sketches. Photo by Wikipedia
Firg 2: The mouse created for the Apple Lisa was among the first commercial mice sold in the marketplace. Photo by Wikipedia.
The Gillette 80-button Mouse
One remarkable thing happened as the mouse evolved and was perfected. Companies kept adding more and more buttons and functions. For example, one of the best-known PC accessory manufacturers, Logitech, developed a three-button mouse, while another company, Pro Agio, wasn’t messing around, and so they stuck a full five buttons on their mouse (...plus a scroll wheel). Users can put a different function on each one — and then only use the first two buttons anyway.
Optics vs. Lasers
Computer mice are about more than just a nice design or a bunch of buttons. One other fairly important aspect is the technology they use for sensing and measuring movement. Long gone are gunk-covered rubber balls inside mice. Today you’ll most often find optical or laser technology. The optical type uses scanning of the reflection of light generated by an LED off of the surface under the mouse. The laser type uses a thin bundle of red laser beams and is distinctive in its higher precision and resolution. Laser mice often also contain a more powerful microprocessor, and you can even work with them on a glossy surface. They also tend to be more expensive than their optical peers.
How Fast Are Mice?
And now for a curiosity. The motions of computer mice are measured in mickeys. As in Mickey Mouse. No joke. A mickey expresses the number of pixels that a cursor on a screen moves relative to the number of centimeters/inches that the mouse itself has moved.
A Lightning Rod for Violence
Slow-loading webpages, annoying ads, a frozen PC, or losing at computer games are all common reasons for banging a mouse against the desk, or just straight-up throwing it at a wall. This phenomenon has a name: Mouse Rage Syndrome, or MRS. It’s been well-known for many years, and it’s proof of just how far our psychological response can go when a computer — or any other office equipment — isn’t working, or isn’t reacting.