Microsoft releasing all-terrain mouse in time of touchscreens

Device using 'Blue Track' technology was revealed by online retailers ahead of launch and will be shown in Dubai today.

Images of Microsoft's new mouse were leaked when online retailers made photos and details available ahead of the product's release.
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The technology that drives one of the basic building blocks of personal computing will receive an upgrade in Dubai today, when Microsoft releases what it is calling "the next big thing". The mouse, about as simple and non-revolutionary as computer products can be, has changed little since its first commercial versions were made available in the early 1980s. New buttons and scroll wheels have been added, and the use of a rolling ball to measure movement was upgraded to a more accurate laser-based system.

Today, however, Microsoft will launch what it says is the next generation of the humble device. The new mouse, which it claims will work on almost any surface, has been promoted with the teaser line: "Say goodbye to laser". If the rumours, leaks and predictions circulating in technology circles are accurate, the new mouse will be based on "Blue Track" technology, which uses a combination of blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and a tracking camera on the base of the mouse to detect movement.

A number of online shopping websites, including the German-language version of Amazon, accidentally made images and details of a new mouse briefly available. The images featured the same branding as the Microsoft teaser advertisements, and showed a mouse that has a ring of blue light running around the edges of its base. On the website of Microsoft's hardware division, where the teasers are located, pictures show a laptop and a mouse being used on surfaces such as carpets, wooden benches and airport lounge chairs.

"Meet the technology that will go anywhere you do," the site says. The new device was scheduled to launch in the US yesterday, after The National went to print. Microsoft will host an event in Dubai this morning to showcase the product to the local press. The release of the new device, coming on the same day as one of Apple's renowned product launches - this time an update to its line of iPod music players - may not make major headlines. But it shows that Microsoft remains committed to the mouse as an input device, or at least committed enough to invest in its research and development. An analyst at Gartner, a research and advisory firm, recently predicted the mouse would be all but extinct within five years, as more user-friendly technologies emerge.

Touchscreen computing, as championed by Apple's iPhone, and the motion-sensing remote controller that has made the Nintendo Wii the world's most popular video gaming system, have both demonstrated alternative methods of interacting with computers. Video feedback systems, which use a camera facing the user to track their movement, are already in commercial use. Such systems allow the viewer to change television channels with a wave of their hand and will eventually let computer users navigate their desktops with a nod of the head or a wag of the finger.

Microsoft is hedging its bets by investing in the mouse, but also promoting its own vision of mouse-free computing. It recently launched Microsoft Surface, a new computing environment that turns a regular tabletop into an interactive touchscreen computer. The system, which the company hopes to sell initially to restaurants and entertainment venues, projects images onto a reflective glass tabletop, which users can manipulate with their hands, turning the pages of a virtual menu or dealing a hand of electronic cards.

Although the system costs upwards of US$10,000 (Dh37,000), the company hopes to have a version suitable for home users by 2010. tgara@thenational.ae