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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 (Logitech Inc., Douglas C. Engelbart: A Profile of His Work and Vision: Past, Present and Future, Oct. 2005 [unpublished report]). 3 Ibid.4 Ibid. 5 Logitech Inc., The Computer Mouse: Adapting Computers to Human Needs: The Evolution of Computer Pointing Devices, Aug. 1993 (unpublished report). 6 Interview with Doug Engelbart, April 10, 2006. 7 D. Engelbart, quoted in B. Moggridge, Designing Interactions (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006), 15.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: 06 Apr 2018 16:52
URI: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/276

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