Birth of the Mouse
Hand on computer mouse We take the computer mouse for granted now, using it countless times a day to do work or homework, to pay bills or buy things, or just to poke around looking for cool Web sites.

But the device started out as "one small and relatively simple component" of a broader goal, according to Bob Taylor, who provided NASA funding for research that led to the device in the early 1960s.

At that time, Taylor points out, computers were still "thought of as arithmetic machines." Taylor was working on flight control systems, flight displays and simulation technology for NASA. He says neither he nor Doug Englebart, the researcher who led the mouse project for the Stanford Research Institute, were interested in using computers that way.

"I was on the lookout for new ways of using computers to make them more useful, more interactive in some sense," says Taylor. Englebart approached Taylor in the Office of Advanced Research and Technology at NASA Headquarters with his proposals, including ideas about how best to manipulate data on a computer screen.

"I was very interested in his ideas," says Taylor. "They were unique." So Taylor granted the funding for Engelbart's study to find the best device.

Englebart's says most of the researchers involved expected a light pen to be the device most favored by the test subjects. But Englebart's early mouse won out.

As for Taylor, he left NASA in 1965 for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) where he initiated the ARPAnet project, the forerunner of the Internet. In 1970, Taylor moved to Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California, where he worked on re-engineering Engelbart's original mouse design.

Taylor says he continued to support Englebart's "development of his online, interactive computing system," which was clearly way ahead of its time. Taylor points out that Englebart was one of the first to use computer displays and envisioned -- in the 1960s -- a system in which many people in a project would have a keyboard and a mouse. As Taylor describes it, Englebart wanted to "develop a way for capturing and sharing wide ranges of information among a group of people who are working cooperatively toward some end."

Sounds a lot like what many of us do at our jobs every day.

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