Happy 20th Birthday to the Optical Mouse

Date Entry
April 26, 2019

Remember the days of your computer mouse getting a little squirrely and the remedy being to partially disassemble the mouse and do away with all of the lint, dirt, and general desk gunk that had found its way onto the roller ball and its sensors?  (Which were also the days where a mousepad was mandatory.  And the roller ball made a pretty great toy too.) Thanks to Microsoft, that is fortunately a distant memory as on April 14, 1999 their first optical computer mouse was introduced at a tech convention in Las Vegas and eventually revolutionized our mousing habits.

Microsoft's first iteration of an optical mouse, the IntelliMouse Explorer, used LEDs and a digital camera to track movement digitally without the need for physical input methods.  Despite its steep price tag of $75, or about $115 in today's dollars, the mouse was well received, as it eliminated the frustration that came from misbehaving mice as well as returned consistently smooth, predictable motion (important for digital artists, photo retouchers, or for gaming).

The IntelliMouse Explorer was based on tech from Hewlett-Packard, and though it wasn't the first optical mouse, it was the first to reach the masses.  Competitors arrived on the scene shortly after and efforts have been underway for the past 20 years to perfect the tech.  Adding wireless features to mice have been the most significant mouse upgrade since, but now mice are available for specific tasks, with scroll wheels, numerous buttons, and more.

Though a lowly peripheral for most, the computer mouse has been an important development for modern computing.  Even if it could be sidelined by some fuzz at one point in its history.

This article was based on a April 26, 2019 Gizmodo story by Andrew Liszewski.

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