It’s called a pointing device.


It was 1972 in Sunny Palo Alto, CA on an early Thursday evening, and Pat was making her last rounds before leaving for home. While depositing a memo in the mailroom, she noticed the lights were still on in R&D. She walked towards the cracked door, clicking her heeled shoes on the polished linoleum, and peeked inside. Typical, the damned programmers were still here and showed no signs of abandoning their posts. Without saying a word she left and went for the kitchen to brew a cup of coffee, and when she returned she finally took notice of their work, “Charles? What in the hell is that thing?”

“Oh, it’s the new protype minicomputer,” Charles swivelled his creaky lime green rolling chair around and grabbed the cup of joe in Pat’s hand. By the time he was taking his first sip, he was already back to facing the black and white CRT monitor.

“No, not the ugly box. That thing on your desk that looks like a mouse with two flat ears and a long curly tail.”

Charles spit out his coffee and slammed his cup down on the desk as he erupted into laughter. Thankfully he managed to miss spitting on the priceless prototype computer parts, instead leaving a stain on the brown carpet. While Pat was rushing away to grab a towel to clean up the mass, ┬áhe took a deep breath and said, “Well, we were just going to call it a pointing device.”

The CRT monitor (before that computers were limited to punch-hole interfaces and oscilloscopes), LAN, ethernet, the GUI interface, and even the computer mouse were all invented at the Palo Alto Research Center in the early 1990s. These concepts are still the basic foundation for computing on the consumer level. While the recent onslaught of touchscreen devices, led by Apple(who also debuted many of these concepts on the consumer market with its Lisa system), is supposedly marking end of the PC era, it’s still fun to take a look back at where it all started. Here’s a couple videos (one is completely in Japanese) which show the Alto prototype PC in action: