How the mouse made its way into our homes

A file photo of Douglas C. Engelbart, one of the inventors of the computer mouse. Photo: Alamy

A file photo of Douglas C. Engelbart, one of the inventors of the computer mouse. Photo: Alamy

The computer mouse you use today had humble beginnings back in the 1960s. American computer engineers Douglas Engelbart and William “Bill” English were working on something bigger when the idea of a “computer-aided display control” was realized.

In 1962, Engelbart, working with the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), published a report titled “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework”. This framework document led to the creation of the Augmentation Research Center which worked on a revolutionary computer collaboration system called NLS or the “oN-Line System”.

Two years later, in 1964, English, who was the chief engineer at SRI, created the first prototype of the mouse. It was a carved wooden casing that housed a single wheel or a pair of wheels that was used to “translate” the motion of the mouse into cursor movement on the screen. There was space for only one button. According to the SRI website, “Engelbart was the inventor on the basic patent for what was then called the X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System.”

On 9 December 1968, Engelbart presented a 90-minute public demonstration—dubbed the Mother of All Demos—at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco where he introduced a string of computer hardware and software elements, including the mouse. The other elements included hypertext linking, text editing in real time and shared screen teleconferencing, among other things. These innovations were key in shaping personal computing as we know it today.

“His philosophy was based on the idea that computers could be more than big number-crunching machines for doing more and more complicated calculations; they could be interactive and networked to raise our collective human intelligence, helping people collaborate and solve the world’s biggest problems,” says Anatoliy Polyanker, senior director, C&P portfolio/brand C&P-MX marketing, Logitech, over email. “Some of his vision has already come true, but a large part of his revolution is still to be realized,” he adds. Engelbart had filed a patent in 1967 and it was issued to him in 1970.

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Since then, the mouse has evolved tremendously. Tracking balls and optical technology have given way to laser-guided precision. The cord is almost non-existent now, with wireless or Bluetooth mice taking their place.

Today, working professionals, students and gamers around the world spend hours on their computers and the mouse plays an important role in this. The focus now is on designing a mouse that eliminates forearm strain and wrist pressure. “We have come a long way from the initial prototype of the mouse but the core idea remains unchanged… Lately the main focus is on ergonomics,” adds Polyanker.

First Published: Sat, Dec 08 2018. 11 59 AM IST

Source: Livemint