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A quick look back at the reveal of the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 25 years ago today

Microsoft intellimouse explorer

There are only a few days in the history of computing where one can safely say everything changed for a certain kind of product. On April 19, 1999, that indeed happened with PC mice. That's the date, 25 years ago today, that Microsoft first revealed its latest mouse, the IntelliMouse Explorer.

Just in case you might be unfamiliar with why the IntelliMouse Explorer is so important in the development of PC accessories, the IntelliMouse Explorer was the first one made for the home PC market with an optical sensor. While it was not the first mouse product with that kind of technology, the IntelliMouse Explorer was certainly the first that had an optical sensor instead of the normal embedded mouse ball that was made for a mass-market audience.

Microsoft, of course, had been designing and making PC mouse products for a long time beforehand. The first Microsoft Mouse was sold in May 1983. It also announced the first product in its Intellimouse lineup in July 1996, That mouse was one of the first to include a scroll wheel, and that quickly became a standard feature in future mice from other accessory makers.

However, the scroll wheel addition was just a prelude to what Microsoft wanted to put into the IntelliMouse Explorer. The optical sensor technology that was used was first developed by Agilent Technologies, which at the time was a subsidiary of HP, before it was spun off into its own company in 1999.

Microsoft called its version of the optical sensor technology IntelliEye. Here is how it described the hardware that was put in the first IntelliMouse Explorer from its press release:

IntelliEye uses an optical sensor to capture high-resolution digital snapshots at the rate of 1,500 images per second. A built-in digital signal processor compares those images and translates changes into on-screen pointer movements. This technique, called image correlation processing, executes 18 million instructions per second (MIPS) and results in smoother, more precise pointer movement. Current mice execute only about 1.5 MIPS, making a mouse featuring Microsoft IntelliEye about 12 times smarter than ordinary mice.

microsoft intellimouse explorer

Of course, putting in an optical sensor instead of using the older technology of a physical mouse ball inside most PC mice products was a massive change. People didn't have to worry about the ball getting dirty or breaking down. The Intellieye optical sensor in the IntelliMouse Explorer solved a lot of problems for most PC mouse owners. In addition, the IntelliMouse Explorer included a small light in the back of the mouse to emphasize that this was a very different product.

In addition to the optical sensor, the IntelliMouse Explorer also had two extra buttons, besides its two main buttons and the scroll wheel. These two extra buttons on the left side were specifically designed for being used with web browsers, defaulting with forward and back functions, They could also be remapped to be used for other PC features like printing, copying text, and more.

Microsoft sold the IntelliMouse Explorer later in 1999 for the price of $74.95 (about $150 in today's dollars). It also sold the original Intellmouse design with the IntelliEye sensor for $54.95. It didn't take long for the older trackball mice products sold by other companies to quietly become obsolete and no longer sold.

Microsoft continued to release new IntelliMouse and Intellimouse Explorer mouse products over the next few years. That included the release of IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 in 2006. It used the original IntelliMouse Explorer design but included a much faster 9,000 fps sensor, along with other features made specifically for PC games.

After a break of over a decade, the company brought back the IntellMouse brand with the Microsoft Classic IntelliMouse in 2017, followed by the Microsoft Pro IntelliMouse in 2019.

Those would be the last products in the IntelliMouse lineup. As you may be aware, Microsoft decided to no longer make or sell its mice and keyboard accessories in 2023. However, earlier this year Incase announced it had gotten the rights to make and sell a number of Microsoft-designed PC accessories. including mice products. Perhaps Incase will include the Intellimouse as one of those revived products one day.

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