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The man who beat Steve Jobs to inventing the mouse by 16 years

Did you know that the very first mouse was made of wood and was invented 20 years before it became a standard way of operating a computer?

The release of the Apple Macintosh in 1984 brought many new innovations to the world of personal computers, including being the first to be operated using a mouse.

It was also the first home computer to have a graphical user interface and it became the first commercially successful, mass-market computer aimed at the home audience.

The rest is history, with the technology taking off and becoming mainstream with an estimated 2 billion computers operating across the globe in 2020.

But while that first Mac pioneered the mouse, Apple did not invent this technology.

The invention of the mouse and why it wasn’t originally intended for home use

 

Engelbart had grand ideas in the 1960s that paved the way for the invention of the mouse.

It was not his plan to create a device that would be widely used in every home and office, instead, he was focused on developing technology to improve our ability to solve complex problems.

In collaboration with Wiliam English, it was correctly predicted that graphical user interfaces would be the future of computing and problem-solving.

But how to move that cursor around the screen?

There were other devices being tested at the time, including joysticks (which would later become hugely popular in video gaming) and light pens (which would … not).

So he started testing using a device he built himself, a crudely built piece of technology with two perpendicularly mounted discs encased in wood and connected to the computer using a wire.

It was a complete success and outperformed the other options by a country mile.

At odds with Steve Jobs

 

While the Macintosh would release a mouse made of plastic two decades later, the fundamentals were essentially the same.

The main difference was the discs were scrapped in favour of a trackball, which meant users could move the cursor in all directions.

But there was a key area where Engelbart and Jobs clashed. Early prototypes of the mouse had three buttons and Engelbart envisaged that future versions of the device would have up to 10 buttons for more functions.

But while Jobs rolled out the trackball for improved functionality, he wanted to keep it simple and only included a single button – a feature that would become synonymous with Apple computers in the future.

These days we have laser-guided, wireless mouse devices that are highly customisable and programmable.

But it all started with Engelbart’s original wooden mouse in 1968.

Douglas C. Engelbart passed away in 2014 at the age of 88.

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