The History Of The Mouse - Macbound Guide

The mouse is an invention that we all use currently to handle the graphical interfaces of computers. It was a revolution in its day, but many will not even remember the ancestors of this invention. Therefore, it is good to refresh your memory and tell the story of this revolution of which there is much ignorance about its introducer: Xerox? Manzana?…

A mouse with wheels

A mouse with wheels
A mouse with wheels

Douglas Engelbart was the inventor of the first known mouse, and he did it in 1964 for the company Stanford Research Institute (SRI). This Engelbart invention used two perpendicular wheels enclosed in a wooden box with a button at the top. By moving to one side or the other, forwards or backward, the cursor could be moved thus inputting X and Y axis data for a display system. Bill English, the man who helped Engelbart build the device, was also the one who used the term mouse to refer to it in his 1965 publication. Computer-Aided Display Control» for its resemblance to the small mammal.

As can be seen in the image, it is a fairly primitive element, with a cable and a parallel interface.

The ball mouse

The ball mouse
The ball mouse

In 1968, the German company Telefunken, directed by Rainer Mallebrein, developed a mouse that used a rolling ball instead of wheels. It was called the Rollkugel (rolling ball in German) and was an optional device for the SIG 100-86 computer system of the German Federal Air Traffic Control. Telefunken registered the patent for this device since it was considered unimportant, but he did not know the mistake he had made.

Billie English, while working on the Xerox-PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), further developed Engelbart’s invention by replacing the wheels with a rolling ball in 1972. In this way, X and Y movements could be detected simply. Also, he used a 9-pin connector to send the signals to the computer.

This version of the mouse was used in the Xerox High, the first computer released for individual use, and the first computer to use a mouse. A complete success, because it was much easier to interact with the graphical interface that was beginning to appear at this time. This invention also aroused the interest of Apple, which reached an agreement with Xerox to use its mouse on Macintosh computers for its new macOS GUI. Apple released Macintosh computers with the device in 1984, and this further fueled the mouse’s popularity, spreading to many other manufacturers, including IBM PCs.

The turn of the ball to optics

The turn of the ball to optics
The turn of the ball to optics

The ease and simplicity of the ball mouse made it a standard for years. However, it has its drawbacks. Many who have used these mice will have noticed that they do not work on certain surfaces, that they take dirt inside, and had to clean them by disassembling the ball, etc.

For these reasons, new methods of entering motion parameters without the need for this ball continued to be developed. This led to the evolution of the ball mouse to a optical mouse in which light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a light detector for motion detection replaced the ball.

Remember that in the early 1980s there was some research to use light instead of the ball to detect movement, but development was stopped due to the high cost of production.

In 1988, Xerox, again, was the first to launch a computer with an optical mouse. The optical mouse invented by Lisa M. Williams and Robert S. Cherry from the Xerox Microelectronics Center received a US patent and came to market with the Xerox STAR computer. However, earlier-developed optical mice were not very popular as they required a special mouse pad to detect movement. In addition, they had a major limitation: the ability to detect movement on shiny or glass surfaces.

It was not until the late 1990s that an optical mouse was introduced to the market that didn’t need a special mat and it had more tolerance to surfaces, although it still resisted glass.

Modern optical mice have built-in optoelectronic sensors to take images of the surface and image processing chips. This major improvement made the mouse more ergonomic, eliminating the need for cleaning and the use of a mouse pad. In addition, it no longer depends on the surface when detecting movement. The first mice to use this technology were the Microsoft IntelliMouse with IntelliEye and the IntelliMouse Explorer, both introduced in 1999.

An even better light

When everyone thought the mouse had reached its peak of innovation, Sun Microsystems introduced a laser mouse. This new input device was used for their servers and workstations.

Instead of using IR or infrared light, this was replaced by a laser. However, the rest of the operation was the same as the conventional optical mouse. Instead of using IR LEDs, they used laser diodes to improve in some aspects, such as the possibility of using it on any surface, including glass.

Although it was first introduced in 1998, it did not infiltrate the consumer market until 2004, when Logitech launched the MX 1000 laser mouse that worked on any PC and not just Sun Microsystems.

A mouse without a tail

A mouse without a tail
A mouse without a tail

Once optical mice were invented, many thought that evolution would stop there, but the truth is that it has continued. Not only have we seen the creation of new, more ergonomic designs with more keys or functions, but there was also a breakthrough that marked a before and after, such as the introduction of the wireless mouse.

These mice stopped having so much resemblance to the animal since they lost their “tail”. They were moving from 6-pin PS/2 and USB ports to communicating using wireless technologies such as Bluetooth or RF thanks to the inclusion of a receiver.

The problem with these mice is their autonomy since they need an internal power supply to feed themselves. That’s why they have a battery, and they have a limited life before the battery needs to be replaced or the battery needs to be charged. However, little by little autonomy has been improving, and there are currently devices that can last for months without needing to be charged.

The use of wireless mice dates back to 1984 when Logitech released the Logitech Metaphor that worked with infrared signals. The advent of wireless technology brought an improvement in freedom by not having to rely on cables. It was later improved using radio signals such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Today, wireless mice using USB RF receivers are becoming more and more popular. The latest innovation is the use of an even smaller receiver, the nano receiver.


The mouse will not abandon us for years to come. She has been with us for decades and will continue to do so. Currently, trackpads or touchpads have emerged, but they are not as practical and easy to handle as mice, so a replacement is not expected soon and the mouse becomes an obsolete peripheral.

However, will there be new advances in mice? Will new interconnection methods emerge? The truth is that it seems that it has reached a plateau, although the performance of the mice continues to improve. But I think we will not soon see a jump as important as the move from the ball to optics or from cable to wireless…

Also, read about The History Of The Keyboard

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Abram left his e-business studies to devote himself to his entrepreneurial projects. In 2017, he created the company Inbound Media and wrote articles about high-tech products for his Chromebookeur site. In 2019, Chromebookeur was renamed Macbound and became a general purchasing advice site. Today, Abram manages the development and growth of Macbound, surrounded by a young and talented team.

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