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Goodbye Computer Mouse

Mouse, the ubiquitous accessory of our computer age may now face extinction, writes Puneet Mehrotra.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2008 19:15 IST

The mouse has been omnipresent in the human civilization. If Lord Ganesha’s preferred vehicle of choice was a humble mouse, Robert Browning in The Pied Piper of Hamelin made mice the central character without them even the Pied Piper won’t have relevance. Fast forward to the 20th century and the mouse became a television hero in one of the most loved cartoon series Tom and Jerry.

Years later mouse became a part of the computer thanks to the efforts of its inventor Dr Douglas Engelbart from the Stanford Research Institute. Twenty years later when the PC revolution took place the mouse became a symbol of human technological progress, without which forget computing you couldn’t even move your cursor on the computer screen. The ubiquitous accessory of our computer age may now face extinction.

The demise of the mouse
In a popular report published in the BBC this week a Gartner analyst has predicted the demise of the computer mouse in the next three to five years. Reason the introduction of gestural computer mechanisms like touch screens and facial recognition devices. Steve Prentice reportedly said that his prediction is driven by the efforts of consumer electronics firm which are making products with new interactive interfaces inspired by the world of gaming.

The new face of computing
While Steve’s report does seem exaggerated but the fact is computing over the last few years has greatly changed. At the same time since the PC revolution almost two decades ago the basic mechanism of computing has largely remained unchanged except of upgraded processors and an added accessory here and there. Clearly there is a gap between what is required and what is available. While there has been an introduction of gestural mechanisms and interactive screens yet the technology has so far remained confined to high end gaming.

Genext computing
Take the case of new technologies like those of Apple iPhone, Panasonic and the Nintendo Wii. The relationship between a user and the machine isn’t just of moving the cursor any longer. Interactivity and experience is what is greatly different. New technologies from Sony and NEC allow using applications with facial and movement recognition. In an interview to BBC Steve said “With the Nintendo Wii you point and shake and it vibrates back so you have a two-way relationship. The new generation of smart phones like the iPhone all have tilting mechanisms with a multi-touch interface. Panasonic software recognizes your face and displays your own menu on your TV screen. You can move your hand to select what you want.”

The New face of computer
While Steve maybe right as far as the computer mechanism progress goes but also noteworthy is where the new line of computers are headed. For instance from high end laptops and PCs the era of thin clients is back. HP, Wyse, Asus amongst others in the last few months introduced thin clients to go with the virtualization and cloud computing wave. It will be interesting to watch how clients get thinner yet applications get more interactive.

For now not everyone is buying Steve’s theory. Says Logitech’s Rory Dooley "The death of the mouse is greatly exaggerated." Also the penetration of a newer “stable” technology and its price graph to drip and for it to replace homes and offices definitely doesn’t look likely in the next 3-5 years. It would be interesting to see what replaces the good old mouse. Apparently replacement of the mouse would also mean end of the free patent raj because none of us pay any royalty to its inventor Dr Douglas Engelbart as mouse’s patent expired in 1987. The replacement sure would be more interactive and expensive too.

(Puneet Mehrotra writes on technology www.thebusinessedition.com)