Way back in 1963, Douglas Engelbart, with help from his friend Bill English, invented the first prototype experimental pointing device — what we now call a “computer mouse.” Engelbart’s invention was a simple wooden box with one button and two wheels that rolled directly on a hard surface, such as a desk.
The term “mouse” came from the fact that these devices had long, thin cords attached to their small, compact bodies that made them look a bit like common mice. The name stuck and has been used ever since.
Sadly, Engelbart never received any royalties for his device. His patent ran out before computer manufacturers began widespread use of mice with personal computers.
For years after his invention, computers still relied almost-exclusively on commands to be typed in via keyboard. For example, to open a particular program, you would need to type a command — for example, run <program name>.
It wasn’t until computers began to use graphical user interfaces (GUIs — often pronounced “gooeys”) that mice became popular as pointing/input devices. GUIs rely on interaction with images, rather than text commands.
For example, to open a particular program, you no longer had to type a command. All you had to do was click an icon, which is a tiny picture used to represent a particular program or computer function. When pointing and clicking via GUIs became popular, computer mice became commonplace.
Today’s modern computers rely on highly sophisticated GUIs that require fine motor control of a cursor on a display. Computer mice use advanced rolling balls or lasers to translate the motion of the hand controlling the mouse into movement of the cursor on the computer display.
Modern computer mice can feature multiple buttons, as well as special features like wheels, to allow users to perform multiple functions at once. For example, clicking the left button of a mouse might position the cursor at a certain point within a document or web page, whereas clicking the right button of a mouse might bring up an in-context menu of possible actions to perform. Special features, such as wheels, can allow a user to scroll quickly down a web page.
Another thing you might notice about modern computer mice: Many of them have lost their tails! Like so many other electrical devices that have gone cordless, so have many versions of the computer mouse. Instead of transmitting their electrical information to a computer via a cord, cordless mice instead transmit data via infrared radiation or radio waves.