Whatever happened to …

… mice with balls?

Or should that be mouses with balls?  It’s a term that I’ve sort of struggled with and I know that there are people with strong opinions on either side of the argument.  For me, “mice” just rolls off the tongue better for me.

It’s hard to imagine but long timers will remember that there was a time when computers didn’t have mice or other pointing devices.  On computers, we used to learn all the keyboard shortcuts.  I know that I did religiously and still use them for many activities.  I find that they keep me more productive rather than reaching whenever I need to perform some action.  In Ontario schools, the first computers were the Unisys Icon which used a trackball and action keys rather than a mouse.  It was a pretty productive way of doing things.  But, its days were numbered.  It was time to end the bowling alley paradigm.

We’d heard about a pilot project that the Board of Education for the City of Windsor was involved with at their Dougall Avenue Public School.  It involved IBM computers with these mouse things attached.  Off we went to investigate.  Staying on top of trends, we knew this was the future for control of a computer.  But, we’d also heard the things that lores are made of.  Supposedly, students were taking the balls from the bottom of the mice and they were so solid that you could break a car windshield if you shot them from a slingshot.  I’ve never been able to confirm this story.  And, as a city friend pointed out to me at the time, it wouldn’t happen because we were “county schools”.  What could happen?  Someone shoot at a tractor?  Grrrrr.

Anyway, we ended up purchasing computers with balls in the mice and used them everywhere.  In the hands of a real expert, they could navigate software very quickly.  I would argue that the super experts with their WordPerfect template of keyboard shortcuts were even faster…

So, some memories from those years…

  • students did indeed take the balls from the mice
  • the genius who came up with the idea of Super Glue to keep the cover in place should have been fired.  Just saying
  • every mouse came with a driver on diskette.  It’s a nice feature in the home computer market but a storage nightmare when you’re buying so many at once
  • early users had to learn how to work the mouse with their right hand.  The left and right mouse buttons were fixed.  I had a left-handed friend point out that it was just another slap in the face for the left-handed person in a right-handed world.  Further insults came when the drivers could be adjusted for the left-handed but the IT people locked the user out of the Control Panel
  • in our purchase orders, we would ask that every mouse came with a mouse pad.  The thought was that the pad would grip the mouse ball better than sliding it over a student desk.  Very quickly, you’d develop the skill of picking the mouse up as you approached the edge of the mouse pad to bring it back to the centre without your cursor jumping all over the place
  • mouse balls had to be cleaned regularly.  They’d accumulate cruft from the mouse pad that would transfer to the rollers inside the mouse to make the magic work.  Ever tried to do that when the cover was Super Glued into place?
  • there’s no nice way of saying this – mouse pads are filthy desktop objects.  Even those designer ones that people would glum from vendors or conferences
  • just when you think you’ve got a plan, things changed.  The original mouse came with serial connectors.  Then, there was specification for a mouse connector.  Then, it just became another USB connector.  Then, there was the ability to connect via bluetooth.  Your mouse became trapped (get it?).  Either upgrade or this whole new business of adapters took off

Then Apple comes along with the Macintosh.  “We don’t need no stinking right button”.  Our mice come with a ball but only one mouse button.  There’s your solution for lefties!  But, along comes software like Microsoft Word that required a right mouse click generated by a combination of keyboard and mouse click!

Not to be outdone, IBM came along with a terrific concept.  They incorporated a track point in the middle of the keyboard.  You could move your cursor with the end of your finger.  The tradition continues today with some Lenovo models.

In the day, there was nothing like a brand new mouse with a ball.  At the same time, there was nothing like a mouse with a dirty ball.  In schools, guess which one was more frequent?

Modern operating systems give you far more functionality with your mouse.  It’s not just for left-clicking.


So, here’s your change to have a kick at this old technology for a Sunday.

  • what was the first pointing device that you used?
  • think of your computing the past week.  Do you always reach for a mouse or are you still a keyboard shortcut user?
  • did you ever own a really fancy mouse pad?  Can you describe it?
  • have you ever had to use an adapter just to get your mouse (or any other peripheral for that matter) to work?
  • mice or mouses?  Weigh in

Surely you have an old mouse story to share in the comments below.

I should note that this post is edited from the original post.  I’ll call this one Part I.  Make sure that you comment to help me frame Part II for next week.

Check out the entire collection of Sunday morning memories here. And, if you’re so inclined, through a suggestion in the Padlet.



OTR Links 05/07/2017

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.