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The history of the mouse

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The modern mouse has come a long way from its clunky, mechanical beginnings

Since the dawn of home computing, the mouse has been our faithful companion. And there’s no more iconic design than the Microsoft IntelliMouse, whose ergonomic casing, customisable buttons and exceptional precision have made it the first choice of gamers and spreadsheet warriors alike for more than two decades. Now, in 2018, the Classic IntelliMouse celebrates and updates that heritage, with smart new looks, enhanced tracking technologies and Microsoft’s most reliable and responsive buttons ever.

It’s a far cry from the mouse’s humble origins. Way back in 1964, it was Douglas Engelbart, a researcher at the Stanford Research Institute in California, who unveiled the very first computer mouse – a bulky wooden box with wheels at the front and the side, plus a single button sticking out of the top. As you pushed the box around the desk, the wheels turned and sent data back to a host computer, allowing it to track your movement. Engelbart called his invention “the bug”, but the long cable sticking out the back made it look more like a mouse, and the nickname quickly stuck.

The first big refinement came just a few years later, when German computer manufacturer Telefunken replaced the wheels with a rolling trackball built into the underside of the mouse. At a stroke, this enabled much smoother tracking, and the ball became a long-standing fixture on all computer mice – as you’ll know if you remember the home computers of the 1980s and 1990s.

There were still some hitches with this design, though. For one, it necessitated the invention of the mouse mat – a little-textured surface that sat next to your keyboard to help keep the ball rolling reliably. And even then, the mouse would inevitably pick up little bits of dust and crud over time, which would get jammed into the internal rollers. The result was jittery, sticky movement – annoying when you’re trying to open a document, and potentially fatal if you’re playing a game.

Those early home computer mice weren’t exactly comfortable to use, either. The very first Microsoft Mouse, released in 1983, was an angular thing that made few concessions to the shape of the human hand; it wasn’t until 1993, when Microsoft released the “Mouse 2.0”, that we finally got a mouse sculpted to fit the user’s palm and fingers. Everyone cheered – except left-handers, for whom the new design was the wrong way round.

The real revolution came three years later. In 1996, Microsoft released the IntelliMouse, with an updated ergonomic design. But it wasn’t just the most comfortable mouse ever: it also featured a new, exceptionally accurate and smooth tracking mechanism. That made it an instant hit with gamers, while the programmable buttons at the sides gave them an extra competitive advantage. As if that weren’t enough, this was also the mouse that introduced the scroll-wheel, a fantastic innovation that helped the first generation of web surfers to browse in ease and comfort. It’s no surprise that the IntelliMouse became the blueprint for just about every mouse that came after it.

There was just one more key innovation to come. In 1999, the IntelliMouse Explorer introduced the game-changing IntelliEye technology, replacing the mouse ball with an optical tracking unit based on an LED and an ultra-high-resolution camera. Farewell mouse mats and fiddly ball-cleanings: hello ultra-fine control on more or less any surface – and the distinctive red “tail light”.

No doubt about it, the mouse has come a long way from Engelbart’s original “bug”. And today, the Microsoft Classic IntelliMouse embodies that history of progress, combining the instantly recognisable contours of the 2003 IntelliMouse 3.0 model with the unprecedented precision of Microsoft’s newest optical technology and upgraded engineering for a superbly tactile experience. More than just a mouse, the Classic IntelliMouse is the continuation of an illustrious legacy – and one that confirms the IntelliMouse as the gold standard in mice for generations to come.

The Microsoft Classic IntelliMouse is available now through the Microsoft Store and select retailers for £39.99.

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