The Microsoft Mouse
April 20, 2021
The 1980’s was an exciting era in the world of computers. Where once only large corporations had such capabilities, the advent of affordable, personal computers heralded a decade of new products to make computer use easier.
Until 1983 no one outside of engineering labs had ever heard of a computer mouse. Yet today, the device is an essential piece of a desktop computer set up.
From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The earliest known written use of the term mouse in reference to a computer pointing device is in Bill English’s July 1965 publication, ‘Computer-Aided Display Control’ likely originating from its resemblance to the shape and size of a mouse, a rodent, with the cord resembling its tail. The popularity of wireless mice without cords makes the resemblance less obvious.
The plural for the small rodent is always ‘mice’ in modern usage. The plural for a computer mouse is either ‘mice’ or ‘mouses’ according to most dictionaries, with ‘mice’ being more common. The first recorded plural usage is ‘mice’; the online Oxford Dictionaries cites a 1984 use, and earlier uses include J. C. R. Licklider’s ‘The Computer as a Communication Device’ of 1968.”
One company which saw the potential in the mouse was – at the time – fledgling software giant Microsoft.
They got on the mouse bandwagon early, bundling their version of a mouse with two of their software programs. Also from the Infallible Wikipedia:
“The Microsoft Mouse is a computer mouse released by Microsoft in 1983. It is the first mouse released by the company, and it was bundled with Microsoft Word, Notepad, and an on-screen teaching tutorial for an initial price of $195.
Nicknamed the ‘green-eyed mouse,’ the Microsoft Mouse featured a pair of green buttons. It also featured a more curved body than the blockier designs more common of mice at the time. As with other mice at the time, the Microsoft Mouse used a steel ball for tracking.
The initial version featured an InPort ISA interface, requiring a Microsoft bus card to be installed in the computer. Later versions were available with DE-9 or DB-25 serial connectors. All versions of the Microsoft Mouse could be used with IBM-compatible and other DOS systems.”
In 1983, I was working for Microsoft in the telemarketing sales division. The company was small enough, however, that friendships developed with individuals across all departments. One such friendship was with one very enthusiastic National Training Manager who, one day, saw me walking down the hall and asked me to step into his office as he wanted to show me something.
The memory is crystal clear. Alan’s office is little more than a cube, big enough for his desk, chair, and a file cabinet. But what I most recall is that his office is an interior one and has no window (ironic for Microsoft, right?). Additionally, his overhead light is not on and all illumination is provided by the glow of his computer monitor. Again, computers and monitors in 1983 had no graphical interface, just glowing green letters on a black screen.
He sits at his chair and says ‘watch this’ and then proceeds to put his hand on a little box and push it around his desk while a tiny straight line cursor jumps all over the screen. The demonstration continues as he clicks a button on the device which locks the cursor in place, then types a few words.
A few months later, our telemarketing group had ‘Mouse’ day with the introduction of Microsoft’s version of the device. Product introduction days were always exciting as our group created ways to make it special and get ourselves motivated.
Mouse day, it turns out, featured everyone wearing Disneyland mouse ears as we called every last buyer in every computer store in the nation. At the front of the room was a large white board where our goals were written. As the day wore on, we would add our sales to the list, and whoops of excitement echoed through the cube farm as we reached each new goal.
I don’t recall how many we sold that first day or in subsequent weeks, but the bundle was hugely popular as consumers embraced the technology.
Most memorable was a funny incident which happened a short time after. In addition to the telemarketing group, we also had a customer service division for people to call in and get help when their products had issues. Often those calls were directed to a crack group of the most patient people in the universe: technical support.
I can clearly see two of my tech support buddies, both of whom were always willing to answer our questions when a buyer would, inevitably, ask us some technical thing that we – as mere salespeople – had no clue how to answer.
I can’t recall if it was Clay or Dolores who told me this story; but one day he/she received a tech support call from a woman who was complaining that her mouse was not working correctly. The tech people always worked through a list of known issues first, asking questions to drill down in order to solve the problem. Most issues they’d encountered before and would either be able to get it fixed it or would send the person to customer service to start the order replacement process.
This particular woman was certain that her software had a problem because every time she moved the mouse around all she got on the screen were squiggly lines and gibberish text. So the tech person had her move the mouse, click the button, and then type something. On the call went for five, then ten minutes, with no known bug causing the issue.
Finally, the woman – clearly exasperated – yelled ‘my arm’s getting tired.’
The tech support person paused and then asked her to describe how she was holding the mouse. It turned out that she was treating the mouse as though it was a touch screen device. All that time she had been holding it up and moving it around on the screen’s surface.
Over the years I’ve had ‘Microsoft’ dreams – not quite nightmares but close – where I’m back working at the company. In these dreams, however, I’m not donning Mouse ears and calling buyers; I work in tech support and field calls from people asking me questions for which I do not know the answers. Talk about stress.
I think of Clay and Dolores often and smile at the stories they shared which often made the stress of working at Microsoft in the early 80’s just a little bit less. Hats off to all tech support people everywhere, you are my heroes.