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Digital Rodents: What is this "mouse" all about?

By Mike Webb


Often in the history of technology, a certain device or technique will become so completely ubiquitous that it almost seems as though it has always been around. In the computing industry, we certainly have our fair share of such innovations, many of which most people probably use on a daily (if not hourly) basis. As a maker of input devices (among other things), Connectrix deals in the trade of such technology, as our keyboards and mice represent the link between many people and their computers.

The mouse is an interesting example. At first glance, it may seem like a rather strange object. The idea of moving a small, hand-held object on a desktop to represent -- and control -- the movement of a small arrow on what is ostensibly a TV screen is at the very least abstract. And many people find mice to be an awkward mechanism until they're used to using them, at which point it becomes second nature.

First popularized by the Macintosh in 1984 and Commodore Amiga in 1985, mice are the product of a long history of early research into human-computer interaction. This research is ongoing, and as computers have become more widespread and mainstream over the past two decades, the salience of understanding and assessing user needs and tasks has increased markedly. And yet, since the revolution from text to graphical interfaces began in 1984, mice remain the input device of choice.

This is not for lack of alternatives. There have been for some time -- and probably will continue to be -- dedicated proponents of alternative devices, such as trackballs. A trackball is somewhat of an upside-down mouse, and there are people who find it to be far superior to a mouse, for reasons pertaining to everything from functionality to ergonomic preferences. Similarly, portable computers have brought about the need for other mouse alternatives, such as the trackpad (a small rectangular surface that senses a user's finger strokes). Many people who begin computing life with a mouse find a trackpad to be annoying and difficult to use, and it is very common to see a laptop at a desk with a mouse attached. It would be interesting to speak to people who began with a trackpad and moved to a mouse later, although this is a fairly uncommon phenomenon.

In short, there is a lot of history and research behind even so common and mundane a device as a computer mouse. Tested by time, the technology continues to prove itself eminently useful, and it will be interesting to see if any other input device technology will dethrone the mouse in the foreseeable future.





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