Douglas Engelbart and the evolution of the computer mouse

We’re back to computers today, as we celebrate the birthday of Douglas Engelbart (born 30 Jan 1925), the American electrical engineer and human-computer interface specialist who developed the first practically useable prototype of the computer mouse.

The computer mouse has become such a ubiquitous part of a home computer setup that its quite difficult to think back to the time when computers didn’t come stock standard with a mouse. Of course early command-line computers had no real need for a mouse, given that they didn’t have a graphical user interface, and there was no need for a device to select different objects on the screen.

The classic Apple mouse - a masterpiece of user-friendly industrial design.(© All Rights Reserved)
The classic Apple mouse – a masterpiece of user-friendly industrial design.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Engelbart’s computer interfacing device, that he developed with his colleague Bill English at the Stanford Research Institute, basically consisted of a handheld ‘box’ with two wheels protruding at the bottom, pointed perpendicular to each other so that, when the device was moved along a flat surface, the rotation of the wheels translated into motion along the horisontal and vertical axes on the screen. The device became referred to as a mouse because of its size and because the electric cable running out behind the device resembled a mouse’s tail.

Even though Engelbart patented his computer mouse (on Nov 17, 1970), this was a case where the invention was so far ahead of its time that the patent ran out before the device found widespread application in personal computers. Hence he never received any royalties for his groundbreaking invention.

The mouse was actually only one of several different devices that Engelbart experimented with to enable humans to easier interact with computers, including a joystick-type device, as well as head-mounted devices attached to the chin or nose. Personally I am quite relieved that the hand-held mouse won out – imagine if we all sat around staring at our computer screens with pointing devices attached to our noses. Then again, we may not have thought it funny – if you think how absurd ear-mounted bluetooth mobile phone headsets look (a personal pet-hate of mine!), perhaps a nose-mounted computer pointer wouldn’t have been that odd…

Of course by today the computer mouse has become a complex, highly sophisticated device, with variants ranging from multi-functional gaming mice that look like something out of a science fiction fantasy, to Apple’s classic smooth and simple design masterpieces.

And all this thanks to Doug Engelbart’s visionary work more than 40 years ago.

‘Intel Inside’ and the personal computing boom

This day in 1968 marks a very important moment in the history of personal computing – it is the day that semiconductor giant Intel was founded.

Intel was founded by Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce. They initially wanted to name the company “Moore Noyce”, but that sounded too much like “more noise”, so they settled on their initials for the name NM Electronics. The name Intel, derived from Integrated Electronics, was adopted later the same year.  Intel produced their first product, a RAM chip, in 1969, and memory chips represented the majority of its business for the first decade. In the meantime they also produced microprocessors, for example releasing the 8080 microprocessor, which was deployed in a vast array of products, from cash registers and traffic lights to computers, in 1974.

The success of IBM microcomputers in the early 80’s prompted Intel to increase its efforts to gain dominance in the microprocessor market. Their subsequent x86 series of microprocessors, followed by the Pentium series, became staples in most personal computers from the 1990’s onwards. Initially a company famous only among engineers and computer scientists, the ‘Intel Inside’ marketing campaign turned Intel into a household name.

The “Intel Inside” campaign remains one of the most famous and successful advertising and marketing campaigns in IT history.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The 1990’s represented an era of unprecedented growth for the company as primary hardware supplier for the personal computer industry. After 2000, changes in market dynamics and increased competition slowed the company’s growth, but Intel has been able to sufficiently adapt to remain relevant in the fast-changing IT sector. In June 2005, Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced Apple’s transition from its PowerPC architecture to Intel-based architecture, and by mid 2006 the entire Apple Mac consumer line was sporting Intel processors.

Intel currently remains, by revenue, the world’s largest semiconductor chip maker. If you’re reading this on a desktop computer or laptop, you are in all likelihood doing so on an “Intel Inside” system.

Get your rhyming caps on – it’s Clerihew Day!

In celebration of Clerihew Day, and in keeping with the science slant of this blog, herewith my clerihew for the day:

Isaac Newton was a Sir
whose theories caused quite a stir
problems that made others grapple
he solved by being hit by an apple!

Newton, putting the science into the apple!
(© All Rights Reserved)

A clerihew? Say what?

Clerihew Day is the birthday of Edmund Clerihew Bentley (1875-1956), writer and poet, and most famously, the inventor of the clerihew – a light and frivolous 4-line biographical poetic form. The rhyme scheme is AABB, with lines of irregular length and meter. The first line typically contains a personal name, while subsequent lines are biographical in nature, but with a fun, lighthearted touch.

So, anyone else wants to have a go?
Please comment if you have a science clerihew!