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Timeline: 40 years of the computer mouse

The computer mouse celebrates its 40th birthday

The computer mouse celebrates its 40th birthday this month. So we've charted the history of this most indispensible of PC tools, from its humble beginnings at the Stanford Research Institute to its present day ubiquity.

The humble computer mouse, a staple of any PC and laptop, has come a long way since its birth in 1963.

Douglas Englebart created the first prototypes of the now-familiar device in 1963 at the Stanford Research Institute, but it wasn't until December 9, 1968 that the mouse got its first public outing. During that unveiling, Englebart 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 then, a handful of companies (namely Xerox, Apple, Microsoft and Logitech) have poured millions into refining the form and function of the mouse: they've 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 Englebart did 40 years ago: as an ingeniously efficient and easy-to-use pointing device.

With the coming of this anniversary, some pundits have been quick to forecast the looming 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. 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.

Notable moments in mouse history

1963
Bill English constructs first mouse prototype based on Douglas Englebart's sketches. This mouse uses two perpendicular wheels attached to analogue potentiometers to track movement. The first mouse has only one button, but more are to come.

1968
Douglas Englebart gives a 90-minute demonstration on December 9 at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco. Among other things, it showcases a refined SRI mouse with three buttons.

1972
Jack Hawley and Bill English, inspired by Englebart's work, design a digital mouse for Xerox PARC. This new mouse does not require an analogue-to-digital converter but instead sends digital positional information directly to the computer. It also contains the first mouse ball, a metal ball bearing pressed against two rollers to track movement. A similar tracking design (albeit with a few drastic modifications), would be used in most mouses for the next 27 years.

NEXT PAGE: The early eighties

  1. The computer mouse celebrates its 40th birthday
  2. The early eighties
  3. What happened to the mouse in the late eighties
  4. The 21st century and beyond

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