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What is a Mouse Pointer?

By S. Gonzales
Updated May 16, 2024
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A mouse pointer, or a cursor, is a visible indicator displayed on a computer screen. By moving the mouse, the computer's user can move the mouse pointer around the screen. Where the mouse pointer is located on the screen can determine how and where the user can press a button on the mouse to input text or execute a command.

The default mouse pointer on a computer usually is shaped like an arrow or a hand. The arrow often points toward the top of the screen and is tilted slightly to the left. Graphical user interfaces employ arrows to indicate a mouse's position on the display screen and a line-like pointer to show where text can be inserted. Text user interfaces such as Linux and MS-DOS can use a rectangle in lieu of arrows or hands.

As the mouse is manipulated by a user, the mouse pointer will move in kind around the screen. When a mouse pointer is positioned over a place where text can be inputted, the pointer can blink as it anticipates typing. If a user should want to disable the blinking cursor, he might be able to change the pointer's settings, including visibility and blink rate, depending on the interface.

Cursors often change the way they are displayed on a screen as a result of how they are being used and manipulated. For example, when selecting or editing text, users might find their cursor to resemble an I-beam. In some documents, users can come across hand cursors that appear to have all fingers extended; in certain document types, users might be able to press a mouse's button and find that the pointer responds by seeming to "grab" the document page or an object within it. When using graphical editing software, the user might notice that the cursor changes to correlate with the specific function that he or she is using; a pencil pointer can accompany the pencil function of the program, for example.

Resizing objects on a computer screen can result in a pointer that resembles a double-arrow. The double-arrow can point either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, depending on how the user wants to resize the object. An hourglass might appear when a computer is busy performing a process that can't be interrupted with input. When a user comes across a link on the Internet, the cursor might change to a hand with an index finger pointing to the link.

Users aren't limited to using default mouse pointers on their computer screens. If they choose to use different pointers, settings can be changed in their control panels to reflect their preferences. In addition, different mouse pointers might be able to be downloaded.

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