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Why Your Mouse Cursor Looks The Way It Does

Like most things in the world of modern tech, the mouse cursor was designed that way for a reason. A document from 1981 explains.

Have you ever wondered why the arrow-shaped mouse cursor on your computer is tilted instead of vertical? Is it trying to look laid back, like it’s leaning? Why do designers make this little guy so slanty?

Well, it turns out that in 2014, there’s no longer a good reason for the mouse cursor to be slanted. But in the infancy of digital displays, angling the cursor solved a real design problem.

As software developer Bart Gijssens explains over at Stack Exchange, the mouse was first invented back in 1981 by Xerox engineer Douglas Enlglebart. The cursor was originally an arrow pointing up. But on the low-resolution displays of the day, it was often difficult to make out a tiny vertical line on a screen, as you can see in the image below.

So, when Xerox and its research and development unit, Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), began making its machines, Englebart decided to tilt the arrow at an angle of about 45 degrees. The angle made the mouse pointer easier to pick out against the pixelated background. Soon, Steve Jobs borrowed the left-leaning pointer software from Englebart, and then Bill Gates snagged it.

For the full (41-page) document by Xerox and PARC from 1981, titled "The Optical Mouse, and an Architectural Methodology for Smart Digital Sensors," sidle your tilty mouse pointer over to this link.

[via StackExchange]

[Image: Cursor via Shutterstock]

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  • I worked at Xerox PARC in the User Interface Research Group, and I can tell you that Doug Engelbart never worked at Xerox PARC.

    The mouse was not invented at PARC, but it was highly refined there by Stuart Card (who was my manager) and Bill English, who worked in Engelbart's group at SRI. Engelbart's mouse did not support infinite movement and was made out of wood. Xerox PARC researchers refined it to use steel balls and invented the laser-based tracking.

    There are so many things wrong in this article, it's not even funny.

  • Andrew Svensk

    This is really a tired and inaccurate statement. The fact of the matter is that collaborative editing is just as valid as any other form and draws from a much larger pool of knowledge. Get with the times.