Douglas Engelbart, the man credited with inventing the early computer mouse, has died of kidney failure at the age of 88, according to numerous reports. Whether or not you know his hame, his work obviously continues to affect you on a daily basis.
The mouse we built for the show was an early prototype that had three buttons. We turned it around so the tail came out the top. We started with it going the other direction, but the cord got tangled when you moved your arm.
I first started making notes for the mouse in ’61. At the time, the popular device for pointing on the screen was a light pen, which had come out of the radar program during the war. It was the standard way to navigate, but I didn’t think it was quite right.
Two or three years later, we tested all the pointing gadgets available to see which was the best. Aside from the light pen there was the tracking ball and a slider on a pivot. I also wanted to try this mouse idea, so Bill English went off and built it.
We set up our experiments and the mouse won in every category, even though it had never been used before. It was faster, and with it people made fewer mistakes. Five or six of us were involved in these tests, but no one can remember who started calling it a mouse. I’m surprised the name stuck.
We also did a lot of experiments to see how many buttons the mouse should have. We tried as many as five. We settled on three. That’s all we could fit. Now the three-button mouse has become standard, except for the Mac. Steve Jobs insisted on only one button. We haven’t spoken much since then.
His work also delved into networked collaboration, hypertext and digital text editing, and video conferencing. Do yourself a favor and take some time to learn about what he contributed to the digital age.
Engelbart left behind four children, nine grandchildren, and a wife.