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Computers Are Reality Essay, Research Paper

If you ask people to name one of the most important technologies of the twentieth century, one of the answers would most certainly be the computer. A computer, however, is not a technology all to itself. Many other technologies went into the modern home computers of today, including the mouse. Douglas C. Engelbart, a worker at the SRI (Stanford Research Institute), invented the mouse in 1964. However, the process of the invention of the mouse was not instantaneous and without effect on the realm of computing and society. In this paper I will be examining the problems that had to be overcome and the technologies that had to be invented for the mouse to become a reality. It also analyzes the impacts it has had on society and the computer industry.

Both economic and technological hindrances slowed the acceptance of the mouse as a main input device. From the economic viewpoint of the SRI lab, for which Engelbart was working, the funding necessary for such technological undertakings was not available. The price of computers was a major factor in the mouse’s slow acceptance. One of the technological problems that mice had to overcome was the fact that most computers and programs did not support the use of the mouse. Another problem that confronted mice is that they were most useful under a GUI (Graphical User Interface) operating system. At the time few existed on the market.

Lack of funding was the main reason the mouse’s existence was in jeopardy. While working on the preliminary research and development of the mouse, Engelbart discovered that they could not afford to bring in outside experience and resources that were necessary for the project. The funds that he had received from the Air Force for his research in human and machine interaction began to grow scarce in 1963. That is when Bob Taylor, a representative of NASA, stepped in and collected enough money from NASA to keep the lab running. Bob Taylor once again helped the lab by getting more than adequate funding from ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) to support the work of Engelbart to its conclusion.

During the time when the mouse debuted computers had just arrived into the small business market. They were still costly and not economically viable for home computer users. Because of the great expense involved there was no need to cater to the needs of the general public, which requires user-friendly computers. User-friendly means that the computer’s operating system and interface are easy-to-learn. The change to using the mouse was also uneconomical for computer manufacturers of the time because there was no demand for them except for the editing of text. Some computers of the time were equipped with mouse support, specifically the Amstrad PC 1512, but the mouse remained unpopular due to its limited uses. The first commercial mouse was not released until 1982.

Hardware and software support is another problem the mouse had to overcome. As mentioned previously, the mouse was released before most computer systems had hardware support for it. Therefore, even if the computer used a program that incorporated a mouse, there was nowhere to connect the mouse with the motherboard. Also there was no code for the CPU (central processing unit) to understand the signals it received from the mouse. Software support was also a factor in the marketable integration of mice. To incorporate the mouse into already existing software would take massive reprogramming. With limited computer hardware support this would not be economically feasible. As GUIs came into use and more computers supported the mouse, programs began to slowly incorporate mice into their new software.

Graphical user interface based operating systems, like Microsoft Windows and Macintosh, were the first programs to effectively employ the versatility of the mouse. Not only was it possible to edit text, but files could be moved and instantly created, and programs could be executed and deleted quickly. The mouse incorporated with the graphical operating systems greatly simplified computers to the extent that without formal training, most people could operate programs on a computer. Operating systems of this type, however, were not developed or widely used until the mid 1980s. Until that time the mouse had to rely on mediocre software and computer support until it had its breakthrough in GUIs.

Since it was invented the mouse has had a predominant effect on society and the computer industry. Directly, the mouse has shaped the computer industry in such a way that, as mentioned before, almost anyone can easily use computers and programs. The mouse was also a key component in the production of GUIs. Without the mouse, a GUI operating system would be almost as hard to navigate as a text based operating system and therefore pointless. Indirectly, the mouse has had vast effects with the most prominent ones being the programming of games and the use and construction of the Internet. But either directly or indirectly the mouse has caused an economic boom in the computer industry.

The direct effects of the mouse have been very important to the computer industry. The mouse is one of the base components to GUI operating systems, which are the systems most home computers and many network computers use today. These “user-friendly” are one of the reasons the computer industry has grown to its current wealth. With these easy interfaces, home users are more inclined to purchase a computer to take over some of the more tedious tasks of everyday life from document editing, to checkbook balancing, to timekeeping. These new graphical interfaces allowed people of every kind to do things that used to be available only to a more advanced computer user.

The indirect effects of the mouse are countless. I selected a few of the newest and most influential concepts. The use of the mouse has shaped the way the Internet was formed and how it operates. Navigation on the Internet is almost entirely based on things directly involving a mouse. Clicking on objects that are links to other sites and downloading programs off web pages are just some of the uses of a mouse on the Internet. Although you can still navigate the Internet and related programs with the keyboard, it is much easier to just “point and click” with the mouse. Computer games have also been heavily, yet indirectly influenced by the mouse. Even though earlier games and some newer games navigate solely with the keyboard, the mouse along with other input devices shaped the way control over computer games developed. Some modern games even rely directly on the mouse for control. One example is the Command and Conquer series, which is manufactured by Westwood Studios. In this game, keyboard commands are limited to keys that alter what the mouse buttons do.

Millions of people now view the mouse as an integral part of computers. The mouse is now a common household tool along with the toaster and the microwave. The mouse has shaped the computer industry and its advancement more than anyone could have imagined. My future job field of computers would be significantly affected without the invention of the mouse.

1. The History of Computing


2. MouseSite


3. Computer Chronicles-From Stone to Silicon


4. Sutcliffe, Alistair

Human-computer interface design

New York : Springer-Verlag, 1989

5. Sherr, Sol, ed.

Input devices

Boston : Academic Press, c1988

6. Recicar, Steve A

Selection of data entry equipment

Washington : Dept. of Commerce, National Bureau of Standards : for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1979

7. Quellen


MF, September 1996

8. Hiltzik, Michael

Dealers of Lightning

New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 1999

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