Mouse Design: 1963 to 1983
First computer mouse.
Although it was invented by Doug Engelbart in 1963, the computer mouse wasn't an instant success. That had to wait for the 1980s and the introduction of computers with graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
The first computer mouse was carved from a block of wood and used two wheels to track it motion. The first commercial mouse was the Telefunken Rollkugel, an accessory for Telefunken's computers that replaced the wheels in Engelbart's design with a ball, making it essentially an inverted trackball.
The first trackball.
The trackball was invented in Canada in 1952. Created by Tom Cranston and Fred Longstaff as part of the Royal Canadian Navy's DATAR system, the first trackball used a 5" Canadian five-pin bowling ball.
The Atari CX-80 Trak-Ball.
The trackball first came to popularity with Missile Command, an Atari arcade game introduced in 1980 that used a 4" ball. Atari developed a smaller Trak-Ball accessory to provide a similar experience with the popular Atari 2600 video game console.
Engelbart's 3-button mouse.
The next development in mouse technology was the introduction of multiple buttons. Engelbart's original design and the Telefunken Rollkugel were single button devices, but the mouse Engelbart demonstrated in 1968 had three buttons. The cord attached to the back of the mouse, where it got tangled too easily, but you can see from the image on the left how the mouse earned its name.
At its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), Xerox was busy inventing the GUI. It created a 3-button mouse for its Alto computer, which was developed in 1973. The original Alto mouse used a steel ball, but Xerox eventually switched to an optical design, likely due to maintenance issues with a ball mouse.
When Xerox introduced its Star in March 1981, it used a 2-button optical mouse. In ensuing years, as mice made their way to personal computers, there was something of a battle waged between proponents of 2-button and 3-button mice, with Logitech favoring the 3-button variety starting in 1982 and Microsoft championing the 2-button alternative beginning in 1983.
Until 1983, personal computers didn't ship with any type of GUI - they were text-based devices that had graphics modes, but graphics were not used by default. Apple changed all of that with its Lisa, introduced in January 1983 (one year before the first Macintosh) with a 12" monochrome display, a mind boggling 1 MB of memory, a graphical user interface, and a mouse. Specifically, a 1-button mouse.
The powers at Apple concluded that because the mouse was a whole new way for users to interact with their computers, it should be as uncomplicated as possible. Hence, one button - a decision that Apple stuck with until it introduced the Mighty Mouse (later renamed the Apple Mouse due to a trademark lawsuit), a multibutton USB mouse with a scrollwheel that acted exactly like a 1-button mouse unless you reconfigured it in the Keyboard & Mouse system preference.
One very nice feature introduced with Mac OS X: The Mac OS now has built-in drivers for multibutton mice, so you can plug in and use virtually any 2- or 3-button mouse, with or without a scrollwheel, without needing to install a driver. If your mouse has more than three buttons or scrolls sideways, however, you'll need to install drivers.
Over the years, mouse designs have changed. Most today have a scrollwheel, some have more than three buttons, some are wireless, some are ergonomic, and some are tiny. They have been the default tool for interacting with a GUI on desktop computers for 30 years now, and even with trackpads and touchscreens growing in popularity, I don't see them taking over the desktop anytime soon.
Logitech Kidz™ Mouse.
On a light note, I have to mention an interesting mouse that Logitech once made, the Kidz Mouse. It came in serial PC and ADB Mac versions, and it looks like a gray mouse with green ears and a green tail. A reader sent me one last year, and it's definitely sized for little hands.
It certainly looks a lot more like a mouse than Engelbart's 1968 model!
Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.
Recent articles by Dan Knight
- The Late 2012 iMac Value Equation, 2012.10.31. Thinner, lighter, faster, USB 3, improved graphics, Fusion Drive option, and no SuperDrive sum up the new iMacs.
- The 13" Retina MacBook Pro Value Equation, 2012.10.30. Take the 13" MacBook Pro, add a Retina Display, remove the SuperDrive, and drop almost a pound from its weight.
- The Late 2012 Mac mini Value Equation, 2012.10.29. The entry-level Mac mini is a nice step up, but the top-end quad-core model is a powerhouse.
- More in the Mac Musings index.
Links for the Day
- Mac of the Day: Mac LC II, introduced 1992.03.23. The LC gets 4 MB base RAM, gains virtual memory thanks to 68030 CPU.
- May 19 in LEM history: 99: Student Bill of Rights - 01: First Apple Stores - 03: Upgraded beige G3 problems - 04: The Mac legacy - More for Mac users in superstores than many realize - 06: Smart design make the MacBook a winner - 08: Top 10 freeware - My first iMac
- Support Low End Mac
Recent Content on Low End Mac
- World Book Encyclopedia 2012 DVD, Tommy Thomas, Reviews, 2013.03.05. "You may be asking yourself, in an age of Wikipedia and instant information, is World Book still relevant?"
- Vintage Computer Festival SouthEast, April 20-21, 2013, Simon Royal, Mac Spectrum, 2013.02.25. Old Apple gear and old PCs.
- iMessage: The Ultimate Messaging Service?, Simon Royal, Mac Spectrum, 2013.02.21. In most ways, Apple's iMessage is far superior to BlackBerry Messenger.
- More links in our archive.
- Best Mac mini Deals
- Best 13" MacBook Pro Deals
- Best Intel iMac Deals
- Best iPod touch Deals
- Best iPhone Deals
- Best iPod nano Deals
- Best iPod classic Deals
- Best Apple TV Prices
- More deals in our archive.
Low End Mac Reader Specials
Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Mac Driver Museum
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ