A similar device was also developed independently of Benjamin’s design in 1952 by a company, Ferranti Canada, working as contractors for the . The company was, amongst other things, tasked with creating an input device for computers on a budget of “basically zero dollars”. Three engineers working for Ferranti, Tom Cranston, Fred Longstaff and Kenyon Taylor, came up with the idea of using a ball housed in a casing that remained in constant contact with four wheels positioned around it. When the ball was rolled in a given direction, the movement of the wheels would be translated to corresponding cursor movements on the screen- essentially this was a four-wheeled version of Benjamin’s device. As a testament to the low budget the engineers had to work with, rather than constructing a trackball from scratch, they simply used a 16 cm (about 6 inch) diameter five-pin bowling ball. Because the device was invented for the military, it too was designed in secret.
Ironically, in one notable way these, and other similar trackball devices that were invented before the mouse, were more similar to the once ubiquitous ball version of a mechanical mouse than Doug Engelbart’s first mouse. You see, Engelbart’s mouse didn’t use a ball at all, instead having two perpendicular wheels directly contact the table instead of using a ball to manipulate said wheels. While still functional, Engelbart’s design had the downside of making it so one wheel was always at least partially being scraped along the surface of the desk. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a little.
Engelbart developed what is the direct ancestor of the modern mouse in the 1960s as part of an ongoing project to discover the most efficient way to interact with a computer. Engelbart felt that the current devices in use at the time, mainly keyboards, joysticks and light pens, were inefficient. With the help of engineer Bill English (who designed the actual hardware for the first mouse based on Engelbart’s idea), he developed a handheld device that housed two perpendicular wheels the movements of which would control the on-screen cursor. Essentially, this more or less worked like an upside down, hand held version of the two previously mentioned stationary trackball devices, but without the ball.
Engelbart thought up the idea for this device in 1961. The first prototype was created by English in 1964. In 1966, Engelbart and English approached NASA asking them to fund a study to determine which input device was the most intuitive and efficient for controlling a cursor. According to Engelbart, the devices proposed to be tested, besides the mouse, were the “light pen… tracking ball and slider on a pivot”. The space agency agreed and a series of tests were carried out.
Engelbart noted of the tests, “We set up our experiments and the mouse won in every category, even though it had never been used before [by the test subjects]. It was faster, and with it people made fewer mistakes. Five or six of us were involved in these tests, but no one can remember who started calling it a mouse. I’m surprised the name stuck.” (Engelbart later explained it was called a mouse due to the fact that initially they had the wire come out of the bottom like a little tail. They switched it to the top to get around one’s arm getting tangled in the cord all the time.)
Despite very publicly debuting the mouse to the best minds of the computing world in 1968, Engelbart’s part in its invention, and even the monumental presentation itself that greatly influenced so much of the coming decades of computer development, were largely forgotten.