SciTechTalk: Mourning the computer mouse?

By JIM ALGAR, United Press International  |  May 13, 2012 at 6:31 AM
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The death of the computer mouse is imminent, we're told, soon to be shown the door by touch screens, track pads, gesture recognition systems and whatever new technology shows up no later than next Tuesday.

I know the mouse is on its way out because I'm reading a Web article -- which I'm navigating with my mouse -- that says so in no uncertain terms.

Oh. Wait. Just noticed the date -- 2008.

And the humble mouse, more than 40 years old, is still here. Hmm.

The mouse has had its ups and down, for sure, since it was invented at the Stanford Research Institute in 1963 by Douglas Engelbart, who named it because the cord exiting from its rear to connect to the computer looked like a rodent's tail.

The technology inside the computer mouse that interacts with the surface over which it moves has gone through changes; wheels, balls, optics, lasers, even gyroscopes, but its purpose has remained more or less unchanged: moving a cursor around the screen, in combination with some number of button to accomplish other actions.

Point-and-click. Drag-and-drop. It's even gone into the language.

Not that companies haven't tried to find a "new" mouse design, with sometime risible results.

Remember Apple's "hockey puck" mouse that came with the first iMac computer? The one that was absolutely, completely round?

Attractive in an Apple sort of way, except that when you put your hand on it without looking -- because you were looking at the computer screen -- there was no way to tell if you had the X and Y axis properly aligned to vertical and horizontal, with the result that you'd move the mouse one way and the on-screen cursor would go off in some other direction, as likely as not.

Oh, and for years Apple insisted that a proper mouse should have a button -- but just one.

So while PC users where getting really, really good with an extra button on the right -- cut, copy, paste, and other handy functions -- Apple users needed two hands. Control-click. Option-click. Some key-click.

But "more is better" could get fairly ridiculous, too, as exemplified by some mouse designs aimed at hardcore gamers, which grew buttons like so many bumps on a frog until you wished you had more than the standard allotment of five fingers per hand. A dedicated button to toggle between single-shot and automatic fire, anyone?

But back to the original premise, that the mouse is on the way out?

As long as such things are a matter of preference -- and when it comes to computers, almost everything is -- the mouse is likely to be around a long time for those who started computing with one.

Oh, I know, people using laptops with track pads -- younger users, especially -- seem to have no problem zipping their cursor across the screen to land exactly between the two on-screen characters that are really in need of a hyphen between them.

But I can't manage it without at least three tries. And I can't be alone, judging by the number of small "laptop" mice with retractable cords I see in use at my local Starbucks.

So the death of the simple, utilitarian mouse may arrive someday, but if I were you, I'd hold off on arranging for the wreath for it just yet.

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