Apple should thank Jef Raskin for Mighty Mouse


mighty mouseApple finally gave in and decided that it was time to do a multi-button mouse. And called it the Mighty Mouse. But they could not do just any mouse, and had to make it cool, and different. After all its not easy to charge people $50 for a wired mouse when bluetooth mice are going for less than that. They come-up with Mighty Mouse. Apple’s idea – lets get rid of the scroll wheel, put a scroll ball instead. Instead of putting actual buttons, lets put touch-sensitive technology. So it looks like a single button mouse (Steve Jobs happy!) and works like a four button mouse.

Russell, normally a level headed fellow, was bobbing his acceptance harder than a Barry Bonds bobble-head doll given away at San Francisco Giants game. And then my sysadmin, sent me an IM reminding me of The Humane Interface by Jef Raskin, who worked with Jobs eons ago. In one of the chapter of his book, he writes about how an Apple multiple button mouse would work. Here is an excerpt which describes the “multi button mouse”

> What I did not see at the time is that multiple buttons on a mouse can work well if the buttons are labeled. If the Macintosh mouse had had multiple buttons, if the buttons had been permanently labeled, and if they had been used only for their designated functions, a multiple-button mouse might have been a better choice. A better mouse might have two buttons on top, marked “Select” and “Activate,” and a “Grab” button on the side that is activated by squeezing the mouse. This last button would be marked Grab. Some mice at present have a wheel on top that is used primarily for scrolling. Better still would be a small trackball in that location. The mouse would control the position of the cursor; the trackball could be used, for example, to manipulate objects or to make selections from menus that float with the cursor.

The Apple page for Mighty Mouse kinda illustrates that concept outlined by Raskin clearly. Apple in its press release has been quick to do a bit of chest thumping and saying we are so cool and innovative (and they are) but never mention Jef Raskin. How about some acknowledgment? For those of you who don’t know Raskin, check out this site, which lists him as a “creator of Apple’s Macintosh, the Canon Cat, click-and-drag selection and other inventions.” The site says he also came up with the idea/name of and the concept of “information appliances.” Just because he passed away, and not here doesn’t mean that his contribution should be belittled. (By the way, Walt Mossberg doesn’t very much care for the mouse. I wonder how it slipped the Raskin idea, since he is normally batting 1.000 on computer stuff.)


Mike C

Hmm, on close reading that vague description could apply to any number of enhancements. It’s pretty clear to me the “Selectâ€? “Activate,â€? and “Grabâ€? ideas were quite different concepts to what the buttons in a multi-button mouse are for.

As for the trackball, the description clearly intends it to manipulate the cursor, something the Mighty Mouse and all other mice do not do, for good reason (that is what moving the mouse is for).

But anyway, I hear Gil Amelio wants credit for inventing the iMac, the iPod, and restoring Apple to prominence!

Dave Roberts

I still prefer a wired mouse over wireless, just to eliminate having batteries go dead at inopportune times.

Jesse Kopelman

Why isn’t it Bluetooth? Who would buy a new wired mouse?

Charlie Sierra

I just wanted to say that Jef Raskin was truly “one of a kind”, very rare, even nowadays.

I worked with Jef after the Cannon Cat project, and the man had great insight into interfaces, but most importantly he was dead on in focusing on people first, and technology second.

Its too bad nobody in Redmond, or nearly everyother technology company ever learned that lesson. Especially the damn cellphone companies, aka an “information appliance” for the unwashed masses.

Charles Herrera

Web reports suggest that the right click doesn’t work when a left finger is resting on the surface of the mouse. This is a major flaw. My tests indicate that the diagonal scroll only seemed to work with certain types of documents (or in certain programs). I also found the “sides” button (since both sides act together as a single button) cumbersome to use – I had to move my hand on the mouse to actually “click” this button. It was additionally frustrating because there was no “click” physical feedback. If there was audio feedback, I couldn’t hear it.

Dave Taylor

Actually, since everything that’s invented typically has a path of prior invention and inspiration, maybe we should be suggesting that Apple thank Doug Engelbart of SRI rather than Jef Raskin?

Michael Markman

I’m missing something, here. Raskin advocates labeling the buttons and Apple has a mouse with no labels and invivisble buttons, and, therefore, Raskin should get credit for the design? Raskin does propose a trackball on top of the mouse, but sees it for a very different use than Apple puts it to.

BTW: here’s an old quip of Alan Kay’s: “Apple has always had a three button mouse. It’s just that two of the buttons were on the keyboard.”


Actually, Raskin argued a lot with the other developers to get them to use the one-button mouse. He felt that the multi-button mouse based (based on what they had seen at PARC) was too confusing. See Wired or just Google.

Despite what people say, Raskin was not opposed to the mouse and the GUI, he just thought they were too expensive for “appliance cumputing” (they cost about $300 back then!) and didn’t like the desktop metaphor in general. He was an early WYSIWYG evangelist and actually was responsible for getting the Apple heads to take it seriously. Remember that the Mac was originally cancelled by Steve Jobs for not being a “serious” computer.

Wilt Brirkless

Everything I’ve ever read on Mac history says that Raskin hated mice, and had no intention of putting one on the Mac when it was still his project.

Mike D.

Om (and Brian): Unfortunately Mossberg dropped the ball a bit on this as I would bet a good amount of money he didn’t take the time to actually install the new driver which came on the included CD. We all did the same thing in our office and had similar clicking problems. Once the driver was installed though, everything worked perfectly.

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