Of mice and men

Have mouse, will surf

The birth of the computer mouse was the subject of a conference in the United States last week.

This content was published on October 28, 2001 - 16:27

At the Xerox Palo Alto research centre on Wednesday, five computer pioneers, including three Swiss, told the inside story of how the mouse was born. They also discussed how the concept came about and was implemented.

It was not so long ago that people thought a mouse was just a rodent. Today the funny little pointing device with a tail at the wrong end is taken for granted, and more than 500 million of them have been sold around the world.

That is due in no small part to the efforts of Bill English, Stuart Card, Daniel Borel, Niklaus Wirth and Jean-Daniel Nicoud.

English built the first mouse in the 1960s at the Stanford Research Institute in the United States under the visionary Douglas Engelbart, whose public display of the device earned him the name "father of the mouse." Card played a major role in its eventual commercial introduction.

Logitech role

Borel is chairman of the Switzerland-based computer device maker, Logitech.

In the early 1980s, Borel and his Logitech co-founders developed one of the first word processing systems. Keen to make the user's interaction with the machine as intuitive as possible, they launched the company's first commercially available product - a computer mouse.

Professors Niklaus Wirth and Jean-Daniel Nicoud used to work at the federal institutes of technology in Zurich and Lausanne respectively.

Wirth spent two sabbatical years at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto where he became a mouse enthusiast, employing it back in Switzerland when he designed and built the Lilith workstation in 1980 and the Ceres workstation in 1985.

Nicoud developed the Depraz Mouse, initially sold by Logitech and the Smaky family of personal computers.

The conference was organised by the computer museum history centre and the Swiss science and technology office in San Francisco.

by Vincent Landon

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