The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men


P. Atkinson, 'The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men: the role of the computer mouse in the history of computing'
Design Issues 23(3): 2007: 16-46


There is a well documented technical history of the computer mouse that describes its invention in the early 1960s and its consequent development over time before its 'public' release with the Apple Macintosh in 1984. A number of computer magazine articles, journal articles, book chapters, online archives and web encyclopaedia entries have traced various aspects of the history of the production of the device, although the consumption of the computer mouse does not appear to have been addressed. How did people react to the introduction of the mouse? Why did it take so long to become a mass-produced item? How did it become the single most accepted interface technology? What did the mouse represent, and what does it represent today?

Through a series of interviews with the inventor of the mouse and the designers and engineers who developed it, along with an analysis of the textual and visual promotional material of the time, this article explores the history of the mouse in the context of its original application, its subsequent improvements through work at Xerox and Apple, and its later wholesale acceptance by the personal computer industry. It is argued that this wholesale acceptance cannot be totally explained purely by the 'ease of use' provided by the computer mouse, and that particularly in the context of the workplace, there were other, less obvious but highly significant socio-political factors at play.

A text only version of this article can be downloaded for free from the
Sheffield Hallam University Research Archive.
The full article with images can be accessed or purchased from the Design Issues website.