The Rodent Revolution
30-Year-Old Mouse Ready For ChangeThe first computer mouse, displayed at the Logitech headquarters in Fremont, Calif. (AP Photo)
Dec. 9 — 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. 
Douglas Engelbart
The father of the mouse, Douglas Engelbart, is still amazed at his creation’s ubiquity. (AP file photo)

Feeling the Screen
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 the Mouse?
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 the screen. 
     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 software. 
     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 us.” 
     Touch, voice, even thoughts. The way we interact with computers—machines—in the future will be unlike anything we know today. 
iMac’s Mouse a Bit Mousy
Apple Computer 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
The 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 mouse casing). 
     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 the iMac. 

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