Chances are, if you're reading this page, you have a mouse in your hand right now. Like most devices in your home, you work with it every day without giving a thought to where it came from. But think of this: that small device was invented less than half a century ago, and has come to define much of the way we use a computer.
The mouse was invented in 1964 by Douglas Englebart, who was looking for an intuitive means of human-computer interaction. Among his many prototypes was a device operated with the user's knees and a giant track-ball. Englebart decided his favorite of the devices was a simple wooden box he created with two perpendicular wheels on the bottom, as this design was easy to use and very accurate.
Widespread usage of the mouse didn't really come about until 1984, when the Apple Macintosh hit the market. Because this was the first widely-used computer to use a graphics user interface (GUI) instead of a command-prompt-based interface, it was the first widely-used computer to have need for a mouse. The benefits of the GUI became obvious after this, and so the mouse became a symbol of computing by the early 90s.
Early examples of the mouse were typically of the "ball mouse" variety. The ball mouse is like Endelbart's original wooden mouse with two wheels, but the two wheels are moved by a ball, allowing the mouse to move in multiple directions easily. This design was dominant until the the late 90s, when the optical mouse became inexpensive enough to be marketable. This sort of mouse was invented in the 1980s, and eliminated the need for a ball that picks up dirt over time, or for any moving parts at all. Also available today is the laser mouse, known for its accuracy and its ability to work without a solid, flat surface.
The number of buttons on a mouse has evolved over time. For a long time, any mouse on an Apple computer had only one button, in an effort to make the device as simple to use as possible. Because of this limited functionality, however, many computer manufacturers experimented with multiple buttons; a three or even five button mouse was not terribly uncommon in the mid-90s. Today, most mice have two buttons, and typically a scroll wheel between them.
Today there are a number of odd examples of the mouse on the market. In Japan, Sony sells a mouse that doubles as a phone for Skype; when the phone rings the user simply opens the mouse, cell-phone style, and starts talking. There's more than one example of the novelty mouse on the market, in the shape of anything you can think of, from retro video-game characters, to soccer balls to a fully-functional clock. Some have even made their own mouse at home, using parts from an old mouse and an Altoids tin or a Nintendo controller.
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