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PC mice scamper into new terrain

Well-known peripheral has begun taking to all kinds of new surfaces--and even to the air.

Nearly 40 years after its conception in a California laboratory, the PC mouse is finally leaving its pad.

The mouse, which has become an indispensable part of any desktop computer, has begun taking to all kinds of new surfaces and even to the air, multiplying to meet the needs of an emerging generation of high-precision computers.

Many of the latest designs in mouse technology were on display this week at Computex, the world's second-largest computer trade show, in Taipei.

The most advanced devices sported ultra-precision optical and laser technology, allowing them to glide across unconventional surfaces such as suede, stone and even human skin, and do everything from storing files to giving massages.

Most of the computing world's biggest players, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, offer the devices with their PCs.

Top developers include Agilent Technologies, while Sweden's Logitech is arguably the only true brand name in the category.

One of Logitech's top-end models, an $80 wireless laser mouse, can track reliably on a wide range of surfaces including polished and wood-grain, according to the company's Web site.

But much of the innovation is coming from a field of lesser-known players, many of them producing for the big names.

Taiwan's Acrox Technologies, which is considering an initial public offering around next year, was showing a range of new products at Computex, including state-of-the-art optical laser devices that have taken the mouse concept airborne.

One product designed for lecturers allows users to scroll around a projected computer screen and click on icons using a built-in ball, or by pointing a laser beam that comes out of the bottom, said Greg Kuo of Acrox's marketing department.

"It's perfect to carry outside or inside," said Kuo, whose company's clients include the likes of U.S. retailer Radio Shack and Germany's Vivanco Gruppe AG.

The move to newer and more innovative mice comes as a range of more portable products hits the market and users demand more versatility and precision.

International Data Corp. predicts that portable laptop computers will outsell traditional desktop models by the end of the decade in developed markets like the United States, creating a need for more flexible mouse designs.

Other new requirements and applications, such as Acrox's lecturing mouse and the high-precision models demanded by gamers, are also driving the trend.

The first mouse was developed in the 1960s by a group of early computer geeks at Stanford Research Institute led by Doug Engelbart. The team also developed a foot-operated control called a rat, but it never caught on, according to The Mouse Project Web site.

The mouse itself did not take off until the widespread popularization of personal computers in the 1980s.

Recent innovations have included the introduction of optical and laser models and battery-powered wireless mouses.

Optical models, which work by "reading" the surfaces they glide across, can distinguish resolution as fine as 800 dots per inch (dpi), said Maggie Lian of NewMen Technology, which was also showcasing its wares at Computex.

Within the high-precision category, NewMen also has two models designed just for click-happy gamers, with an average life of 3 million clicks or more compared with just 1 million for more sedentary models.

NewMen's other innovative models include mouses with fingerprint recognition that will only unlock for the right user, and a device with two wire-connected pads that fasten to the body to give an electrical massage while computing.

"You can't put it on your chest or near your chest," Lian cautioned of the massage model. "It uses a small amount of electricity to give three kinds of (Chinese-style) massage. You can adjust the strength from the mouse."

Story Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.