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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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.

1981
Xerox produces a commercial mouse for its expensive 8010 Information System (aka the 'Star'. It features two buttons and ball tracking. However, the entire Star system sells for over $20,000, dooming it and its mouse to relative obscurity.

Under contract, design firm Hovey-Kelley creates the first inexpensive, mass-producible, reliable mouse for Apple. Its key components include optical encoder wheels, a free-moving tracking ball, and a precision injection-molded inner frame. This design breakthrough sets the stage for cheap, reliable consumer mouses that everyone can afford.

Richard Lyon invents the first optical mouse at Xerox PARC. This mouse requires a special dot-covered pad for tracking.

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 rodents 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 mouses 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.

NEXT PAGE: What happened to the mouse in the late 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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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.

1986
Apple introduces a new way of connecting mice and keyboard - 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 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 popularises the scroll wheel with the release of the IntelliMouse Explorer. It features a rubberised 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 rodents from Microsoft, Logitech, Apple, and dozens of other companies.

Microsoft releases its first optical mouses. The IntelliMouse Explorer with IntelliEye is priced at $70 and features no fewer than five buttons and an optical tracking sensor that doesn't require a special mouse pad. Microsoft also offers a more simple 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 wireless trend. Other peripheral makers follow suit with a new generation of more accurate and battery-efficient wireless mouses.

NEXT PAGE: The 21st century and beyond

  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

Visit Business Advisor for the latest business IT news, reviews, tips and tricks - plus sign up for our unique and FREE business IT newsletter

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.

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). 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.

  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

Visit Business Advisor for the latest business IT news, reviews, tips and tricks - plus sign up for our unique and FREE business IT newsletter