A mouse (not Mickey) marks 30th birthday Input: The computer device didn't become a big cheese until 1980s.

December 14, 1998|By BOOTH MOORE | BOOTH MOORE,LOS ANGELES TIMES

It may be the most important connection between the digital and the physical. Happy birthday to the mouse, the little critter that put the computer revolution into the palms of our hands, into our homes and into our collective consciousness.

Introduced at a hobbyists' conference in San Francisco on Dec. 9, 1968, the mouse was more of a curiosity than anything else.

"We needed a way to point to something on-screen," explains Doug Engelbart, one of several trailblazing techies working at Stanford Research Institute in the early 1960s.

Several candidates were rounded up: light pens, tablets and trackballs, Engelbart says. "Then I remembered some notes I made about a gizmo on two wheels." Engineer Bill English made the vision a reality, creating a wooden block with two wheels and a push button.

Though no one can remember who first called it a mouse, "with the wire coming out, it looked like something with a tail," Engelbart recalls. "We all thought that if it moved into the real world, by then someone would give it a respectable name."

The name stuck.

The mouse became the big cheese when Apple Corp. attached it to user-friendly Macintosh computers in the mid-1980s. It moved on to work with Microsoft's Windows programs, and became a component of almost every computer.

The lovable electronic rodent continues to evolve at Logitech, the largest maker of the mouse in the world. The Fremont, Calif.-based company produced more than 40 million last year, including four new scrolling mice (which eliminate the need to move the mouse to click on screen scroll bars) and a cordless, radio-controlled model.

Logitech is developing for the mainstream 3-D mouse technology that was previously used only by designers of cars and airplanes. "The applications are limitless," Chief Executive Guerrino De Luca says, beaming. "Think of the possibility of being able to use a mouse to manipulate an object in 3-D to see if you want to buy it."

Another driving force in new mouse technology is repetitive strain injury - a human condition virtually unknown before the computer revolution. Mice are made in many shapes and sizes, for right-handed, left-handed, even ambidextrous people. "The idea is that it should disappear in your hand," De Luca explains.

Future mouse mutations may even allow users to feel what they are seeing on-screen. "Technology that is now in computer games, where you can feel [bumps in the road] on a steering wheel or a joystick, may lead to a new mouse," De Luca says. "Imagine being able to feel the texture of a silk."

Or, for more educational applications, to use a mouse to get the sense of depth and height of a topographical map on your computer screen."

De Luca predicts video cameras will also serve as ways to control functions on a computer. "Someday the cursor on the screen may recognize the movement of your eyes."

Still, he believes the mouse is in no danger of becoming extinct.

Pub Date: 12/14/98

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