Today in Media History: The big computer story of 1981 was about a little mouse

April 27, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

We mentioned in an earlier “Today in Media History” that computer mouse technology can be traced back to the 1960s.

But it wasn’t until April 27, 1981 that the mouse was introduced commercially as part of the innovative, yet very expensive, Xerox 8010 Star Information System.

The Xerox Star workstation was a commercial failure, but the mouse lived on with the release of Apple’s Lisa and Macintosh computers.

“In April of 1981, Xerox introduced the 8010 ‘Star’ Information System. Star’s introduction was an important event in the history of personal computing because it changed notions of how interactive systems should be designed.

….When Star was first introduced in 1981, its bitmapped screen, windows, mouse-driven interface, and icons were unique in the marketplace. They were readily-apparent features that clearly distinguished it from other computers. Soon, however, these features were adopted by others.”

— “The Xerox ‘Star’: A Retrospective
IEEE Computer, September 1989

Image-1981 Mouse

(The above screenshot comes from a video titled, “Xerox Star User Interface.”)

“So was what (Steve) Jobs took from Xerox the idea of the mouse? Not quite, because Xerox never owned the idea of the mouse. The PARC researchers got it from the computer scientist Douglas Engelbart, at Stanford Research Institute, fifteen minutes away on the other side of the university campus. Engelbart dreamed up the idea of moving the cursor around the screen with a stand-alone mechanical ‘animal’ back in the mid- nineteen-sixties. His mouse was a bulky, rectangular affair, with what looked like steel roller-skate wheels. If you lined up Engelbart’s mouse, Xerox’s mouse, and Apple’s mouse, you would not see the serial reproduction of an object. You would see the evolution of a concept.”

— “Creation Myth: Xerox PARC, Apple, and the truth about innovation
The New Yorker, May 16, 2011

Throughout the 1970s the mouse and other Xerox computer technologies were considered experimental products, but Xerox did give the world a look at its ground breaking Alto computer:

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