— It may look like a rodent, but
most of us wouldn’t know what to do without our computer mouse.
Without the little plastic rodent,
the computer revolution might not have happened; without it we’d still
be moving the cursor by typing in lines of code, or using command punch
cards like the first computer scientists did 30 years ago. Point-and-click
would not have entered the language. “The mouse was the first revolutionary
step towards making computers interact directly with human beings,” says
Paul Saffo, president of the Institute for the Future.
Mice around the world celebrated
a birthday today. The first computer mouse was invented by Silicon Valley
scientist Doug Englebart 30 years ago. “I get this mild feeling of amazement
that there’s so many of them out there,” says Englebart.
father of the mouse, Douglas Engelbart, is still amazed at his creation’s
ubiquity. (AP file photo)
Yet Englebart’s revolutionary rodent, as it exists today,
has only scratched the surface. What scientists have in store for our not-so-furry
friend is as revolutionary as the mouse was when it first appeared. It’s
called “force-feedback.” The idea is to allow your hands to “feel ” what
your eyes are seeing on the screen.
The mouse of the future won’t
only scuttle over its tiny pad, but will engage more of the human senses.
And that, says Guerrino de Luca, President of Logitech, the world’s largest
mouse manufacturer, will make computer use “easier, simpler, more pleasant,
more enjoyable, more productive.” Force-feedback technology, says Luca,
will actually “provide you a feeling of texture when exploring a certain
material on the screen,” like touching corduroy or silk.
Beyond these innovations, scientists are ultimately hoping
to phase out our desktop pet. In the future, the work of a mouse could
be done by other things—like cameras that track eye movement. The cursor
moves to what you’re looking at; the computer puts that information on
And as computers get smaller,
and can be projected onto your eyeglasses, or slipped into your pocket,
they’ll have to be activated not by hand, but by voice.
“Basically, the goal is to act
with your computer the same way you’d act with another person,” says Roger
Matus, VP of Marketing at Dragon Systems, a company that makes voice-recognition
The result: computers without
mice or keyboards, that know how to recognize you—that even know what you’re
thinking by detecting frowns of puzzlement, or other expressions.
“I think that’s the mouse of
the future,” says Dave Kelly, President of Ideo, the industrial design
company that currently holds the mouse patent. “It’s not us getting better
at moving something, it’s the computer getting better at understanding
Touch, voice, even thoughts.
The way we interact with computers—machines—in the future will be unlike
anything we know today.
Mouse a Bit Mousy
has been credited with personalizing the PC. The Apple II brought computers
into people's homes, and the first Macintosh brought the mouse, click-and-point,
and ease-of-use into everyone's tech vocabulary.
iMac mouse: ergonomically unsound? (Apple)
The new-generation Macintosh, the iMac, has been a top seller since its
August release. But one question occurs to just about every new user: what
have they done to the mouse?
Most mice today are kind of oval in shape, bulging upward in the center
to nestle in the palm of the hand. Ergonomic and elegant. Not so the iMac
mouse. The mouse for the iMac is reminiscent of a hockey puck—flat and
round. The two-tone design looks nice, but Apple has reportedly received
dozens of complaints about the discomfort of using it.
Apple spokeswoman Nathalie Welch says the iMac's mouse was designed to
be used with just the fingertips: “You don't have to clutch it.”
Welch admits that the company received a number of complaints about the
iMac mouse, but says they have died off as people have grown accustomed
to the new design.
"It does take a little while to get used to," Welch says, "but once you
get the fingertip control down, it just flies."
But a quick search of newsgroup postings turned up over 500 posts dealing
with the mouse, most complaining about its poor design (although a few
posts came from iMac users who wanted to put a LED light inside the translucent
The Apple press hasn’t been too kind, either. As one review in MacWorld
said ever-so-diplomatically, “style has won out over substance.”
A third-party perhipheral maker, MacAlly, has quickly introduced an alternative
to the iMac mouse, the $44.94 iMouse. Shaped like most other mice, the
iMouse is reportedly quite popular among iMac users.
And for true mouse-a-phobes, MacAlly also offers an iBall trackball for