Finding a functional serial mouse for my ongoing 486 restoration project has been a challenge. Up until now, my retro rigs have had PS/2 ports that work with a variety of older optical mice. This isn’t the case with many custom-built systems from the early to mid-nineties. Unless your system was an IBM or some other name brand, you likely had to use a serial mouse.
Because of the peripheral divide in those days, there was demand for PS/2 as well as serial mice. This prompted manufacturers to create what was then known as ‘combo mice’. These mice would come with a simple PS/2 to serial adapter to allow support for both standards. When it came to keyboards, most if not all PS/2 keyboards were compatible with the common 5-pin DIN connector with a simple adapter. This is because the two connectors are electrically compatible and just need pin translation. With mice, however, this is not the case. For a PS/2 mouse to work with a PS/2 to serial adapter, it must have hardware support for both standards under the hood. Today I’m going to be looking at one of the iconic combo mice from the mid-nineties – the Microsoft Mouse.
I was fortunate enough to find this ‘new old stock’ mouse on eBay from a Canadian seller. It was brand new and still sealed, which is quite rare these days. Most of the serial compatible mice I’ve come across are quite worse for wear and demand exorbitant prices.
Made in 1996, this 22 year old mouse is really at a crossroads in peripheral connectivity. It supports the legacy Serial standard, as well as the more common PS/2 standard found on all ATX based systems of that era. USB, although it did exist in 1996, was really not popular yet. Even Windows 95 didn’t support it out of the box until later revisions of the OS were released. It’s also just old enough not to have the wheel that’s so common these days.
I must admit, I was probably a lot more excited to open this package than most people would be. It was pretty neat to see two included floppies and the original Microsoft warranty registration cards. It would be interesting to see what would happen if I actually filled those out and sent them in! 🙂
Being sealed in the original box meant that this mouse still looked brand new over 22 years since being made. Most mice of this age would be badly yellowed by this point. It still had that new electronics smell too. Interestingly, only the grey colored cable seemed to discolor a bit. Notice the mention on the bottom about it being ‘Serial Compatible’. Trust me, I’ve tried many old PS/2 Microsoft mice with a serial adapter only to be disappointed. If it doesn’t say it’s serial compatible, it likely isn’t.
I didn’t waste any time and installed the included software for Windows 3.11. Rather than using the DOS mouse driver, I used the much lighter weight CTMOUSE.EXE that comes with FreeDOS. It uses only 3K of memory instead of closer to 25K. So far so good!
From oldest to newest – I’ve accumulated a few Microsoft mice it seems. Interestingly all four have different compatibility. The first is the USB/serial mouse I opened today. The second mouse from the left is PS/2 compatible only. The white optical mouse third from the left is USB and PS/2 compatible. The newer mouse to the far right is USB only.
Stay tuned for more on the 486 restoration!