Computer mice

Until our computers can read our eye movements or our thoughts, the computer mouse, or some sort of mouse device, is going to be with us for a while. The mouse is over 40 years old – the first prototype was constructed in 1963 but the idea was not made public until five years later. The computer mouse is now a ubiquitous design icon, more familiar than mice the animals.

Incidentally, if you were worried, both “mice” and “mouses” are acceptable plurals of (computer) mouse. Occasionally, “mouse devices” is used.

What is a mouse?

A mouse is a hand-held pointing device that detects two-dimensional movement to produce a corresponding movement of a pointer on a computer display which allows control of a Graphic User Interface. Using a mouse, computer functions can be selected, screen areas delimited and cursors positioned. Fingertip controls on a mouse select or initiate function.

A very annotated mouse history

Douglas C. Engelbart sketched the first designs for a computer mouse at Stanford Research Institute in 1963. That same year Bill English built a prototype based on Engelbart's sketches but it wasn't until 9 December 1968 when Engelbart demonstrated the device publicly. When in 1967 Engelbart filed for a patent for such a device, he did not use the word “mouse”. Instead he used the term “position indicator control”.

Since then, the mouse has taken on myrad devolopments and manifestations including:

  • Bill English's “ball mouse” of 1972 (replacing wheels with a ball that could rotate in any direction).
  • Optical mice were first developed ca.1980. Optical mice use light to detect movement.
  • 1984 saw the first cordless mouse, using infrared light to communicate with the receiver unit (like TV remote control). But it was in 1991 that Logitech released the first wireless (radio frequency transmission) mouse which, unlike infrared communication, did not require line-of-sight with the base station.
  • Mice with scroll wheels in 1995

Computer mice have not settled on a standard format and vary in movement detector technology, number of buttons and so on.

Which mouse for me?

Things to consider when buying a mouse:

  1. Compatibiliy – Triple check that the mouse is compatible with your computer in terms of connection – check your PC to see if you have a PS/2 and/or USB connection – and check the mouse employs the same connection. Also make sure the software is compatible.
  2. Function, importance and cost – You may just use your computer to open the odd email or surf the web in which case you don't need to fork out a lot of cash on a mouse. If you sift through lots of reports and/or spreadsheets, you may want a mouse with a scroll wheel which allows quick navigation around the document. More specialist use may require a mouse which is highly sensitive to movement. Mice can cost as little as four quid or more like £50 for top of the range.
  3. Ergonomics – Choose a mouse shape and size you are used to or otherwise comfortable with.
  4. Buttons – The number of buttons – and their functions – vary with mice. Some buttons are programmable.
  5. Optical, trackball, external trackball, scroll wheel – Trackballs eventually wear our while optical mice are a little pricier. Some people prefer an external trackball that you control with your fingers. Expect to pay a bit more for ease of movement and durability.
  6. Wired or wireless – The latter mice are pricier but tidier and more versatile.

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