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The best laid plans of mice and men: the computer mouse in the history of computing

Atkinson, Paul (2007) The best laid plans of mice and men: the computer mouse in the history of computing. Design Issues, 23 (3). pp. 46-61. ISSN 0747-9360

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Abstract

It could be argued that the history of the computer mouse has already been written. It is true that a number of computer magazine articles and sections of books on computer history, along with online archives and Web encyclopedia entries, have described in some detail how the mouse we know today came into existence. However, these writings by and large have described the design, development, and production of the mouse without really assessing the extent to which it has affected our relationship with computing technology.
The history of the mouse raises a number of interesting questions:
Why did it take so long to become a mass-produced item? How did people react to the introduction of the mouse? What did the mouse represent, and what does it represent today? How and why did it become the single most accepted interface technology?...

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2007 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Subjects: T Technology > T Technology (General)
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Schools: School of Art, Design and Architecture
References:

1 Interview with Doug Engelbart at the
headquarters of Logitech Inc., Fremont,
California, April 10, 2006.
2 Ibid. Engelbart’s experience with radar
in WWII led him to believe that the light
pen was the potential device to enable
interaction with a computer network. “I
knew implicitly, and with surety, that if a
computer could punch cards, that it could
also electronically display text and draw
on a CRT. And if radar attached to a CRT
could respond to operators, then people
could also interact with a computer that
had a CRT. I could see electronically that,
if other people were connected to the
same computer complex, we could be
collaborating.” (Logitech Inc., Douglas
C. Engelbart: A Profile of His Work and
Vision: Past, Present and Future, Oct.
2005 [unpublished report]).
3 Ibid.4 Ibid.
5 Logitech Inc., The Computer Mouse:
Adapting Computers to Human Needs:
The Evolution of Computer Pointing
Devices, Aug. 1993 (unpublished report).
6 Interview with Doug Engelbart, April 10,
2006.
7 D. Engelbart, quoted in B. Moggridge,
Designing Interactions (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 2006), 15.
8 Engelbart’s paper “Augmenting
the Human Intellect: A Conceptual
Framework” was published in 1962. In
this, Engelbart refers to a “pointer” that
would allow the knowledge worker to
navigate through items on the screen.
9 It was called “NLS” rather than “OLS,”
because that already was used to
indicate an “Off Line System.” When
the NLS was taken into the commercial
world, it was renamed “Augment.”
10 In a way similar to a stenographer
using a stenotype, a five-key chordset
device can recreate any alpha-numerical
character by different combinations of
the five keys. According to Wikipedia,
“Researchers at IBM investigated chord
keyboards for both typewriters and
computer data entry as early as 1959”
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chord_
keyset, accessed Sept. 20, 2006).
11 Logitech Inc., Douglas C. Engelbart: A
Profile of His Work and Vision: Past,
Present and Future.
12 Ibid.13 Interview with Stuart Card at Palo Alto
Research Center, Palo Alto, California,
April 10, 2006.
14 Larry Tesler, cited in M. Hiltzik, Dealers of
Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of
the Computer Age (Orion Business Books,
2000), 203, recalls trying to convince
Xerox colleagues that the Engelbart
system was too complicated, and that it
was not realistic to expect people to train15 M. Hiltzik, Dealers of Lightning: Xerox
PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age
(Orion Business Books, 2000), 166.
16 Ibid., 210.
17 Ibid., 209.
18 Ibid., 366.19 A detailed description of this work can be
seen in the form of primary documentation
in the online archive from Stanford
University, “Making the Macintosh,
Technology and Culture in Silicon
Valley” (http://library.stanford.edu/mac/,
accessed Aug. 1, 2006).
20 A. S. Pang, “The Making of the Mouse”
in American Heritage of Invention and
Technology 17:3 (Winter 2002), 49.
21 Rickson Sun, interview with Dennis
Boyle, Jim Yurchenco, and Rickson Sun at
the offices of IDEO, Palo Alto, California,
April 7, 2006.
22 Jim Yurchenco, Ibid.23 The first Logitech mouse was based
on the hemispherical “Depraz” mouse
developed by Professor Jean-Daniel
Nicoud at LAMI (LAboratoire de Micro-
Informatique) in Switzerland, but was
technically complicated as well as ergonomically
flawed. A more recent example
of a circular form in mouse design (and
one as ergonomically bad as the Depraz
mouse) was the original mouse for the
Apple iMac, designed by Jonathan Ive in
1998. ABC News commented “The twotone
design looks nice, but Apple has
reportedly received dozens of complaints
about the discomfort of using it...A quick
search of newsgroup postings turned up
over 500 posts dealing with the mouse,
most complaining about its poor design”
(ABC News, “The Rodent Revolution”
at: www.crews.org/curriculum/ex/
compsci/7thgrade/intel/mouse-revol.htm,
accessed Sept. 21, 2006).
24 Interview with Paul Bradley at the offices
of IDEO, Palo Alto, California, April 7,
2006.
25 Ibid.
26 Paul Bradley, quoted in Bill Moggridge,
Designing Interactions (Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 2006), 45.
27 Microsoft mice always had two buttons,
while Apple went for the simplicity of
one button. The decision to go with one
button was a lengthy one since it meant
designing the operating system software
differently. Eventually, according to Jim
Yurchenco, the decision to go with one
button was made so that the instruction
manual would be easier to write.28 Interview with Paul Bradley at the offices
of IDEO, Palo Alto, California, April 7,
2006.
29 The story of the Apple Macintosh
advertisement is told in many places.
One of the best descriptions appears in
Steven Levy’s Insanely Great: The Life
and Times of Macintosh, the Computer
that Changed Everything (Penguin Books,
1994), 169–171. The advertisement
can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/
watch?v=OYecfV3ubP8 (accessed Sept.
28, 2006).
30 Apple Computer Inc., Macintosh Manual
(1984), 13.
31 G. McComb, Macintosh User’s Guide
(Howard Sams & Co., 1984), 32–33.
32 J. Martin, et al., A Breakthrough in
Making Computers Friendly—The
Macintosh Computer (Prentice Hall Inc.,
1985), 10–12.33 Anon, “Mice for Mainstream
Applications” in PC Magazine (Aug.
1987).
34 T. Stanton, “From Our Maus to Baumaus:
Logitech vs. Microsoft” in PC Magazine
(Feb. 16, 1988): 202. This, too, was in a
section called “Alternate Input Devices,”
indicating that the mouse was in no way
the preferred primary input method at
this point.
35 Cited in Logitech Inc., The Computer
Mouse: Adapting Computers to Human
Needs: The Evolution of Computer
Pointing Devices, Aug.1993 (unpublished
report).
for six months to become literate with it.

Depositing User: Sara Taylor
Date Deposited: 05 Jul 2007
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2010 18:20
URI: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/276

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