The computer mouse set to die out in the next five years? Don't bet on it!

According to a sensationalist article by the BBC News, that lump of plastic that you have next to your keyboard will, over the next few years, go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced by revolutionary technologies such as touchscreens and facial recognition. I wouldn't bet on it ...

According to a sensationalist article by the BBC News, that lump of plastic that you have next to your keyboard will, over the next few years, go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced by revolutionary technologies such as touchscreens and facial recognition. I wouldn't bet on it ...

Minority Report
A Gartner analyst predicts the demise of the computer mouse in the next three to five years.

Taking over will be so called gestural computer mechanisms like touch screens and facial recognition devices.

"The mouse works fine in the desktop environment but for home entertainment or working on a notebook it's over," declared analyst Steve Prentice.

He told BBC News 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.

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Technology analysts seem to have an unshakeable belief that the pace at which technology evolves is unstoppable and that the rate of change is the same across the board. I'm here to tell you that it isn't, and the one place that the march of change slows down to a crawl is whenever the people sitting on the chair in front of the PC have to take an active part in that change.

Most change requires little or no input from the end user. MHz to GHz, MBs to GBs and then TBs, floppy to CD and then DVD, CRT to LCD, these changes didn't require any more from the user than the willingness to buy the latest bit of kit. Over that time we've also seen the core input devices attached to a PC evolve, with the mouse transforming from a mechanical device into an optical one, and both it and the keyboard breaking ties with the PC and resorting to wireless communication.

About ten years ago I decided that the mouse was dead and turned instead to trackballs (Logitech ones initially, and later Microsoft). To me trackballs seemed like the way of the future. They made use of optical technology (in an era when most mice were still mechanical), they could be used on any surface, they were bristling with buttons and other cool features, they promised to be maintenance-free, and they allowed you to have much finer control over the cursor. And the advantage of advantages - you didn't need to move your arm! You could control your PC through tiny movements of your thumb or forefinger. I was so jazzed by trackballs that I replaced all my mice with them. The era of the mouse was dead.

Or so I thought ...

Part of the problem with making any radical change in that you can't take it everywhere with you. While my PCs were all fitted with trackballs, not every PC was, and that meant that I was forever switching between the two input methods (this goes hand in hand with the reason why I never bother learning the Dvorak keyboard). Similarly, it was a pain to migrate all the button settings and setup to all systems, a failing with ultimately led to all the trackballs being left on their default settings that in turn meant that the benefits of super-sensitivity and having countless buttons was lost. Even the claim that trackballs were maintenance-free turned out to be a lie. After about five years of being a trackball fan (yes, I stuck with it for that long), I gave up and went back to mice.

I've even dabbled with tablets, and while they are great for certain applications (think Photoshop and the like), they are of limited use for day-to-day applications. Sue, they have their place, but only in a limited way. I also had an elaborate Microsoft gaming platform called the Strategic Commander that was part mouse/part keyboard. That was dead handy because you could load it up with a ton of macros and I even used this for non-gaming tasks. Microsoft stopped supporting it, it was a pain to load the drivers onto Vista and the device now collects dust. This was a cool addition to the keyboard and mouse, but no replacement.

The problem with the mouse is that, like the keyboard, it's good enough, and it has been around for long enough to have become the default. Anything that replaces the mouse not only has to be better than it, it'll have to be a LOT better. Right now, I don't see anything on the horizon that comes close to making the mouse extinct.

Oh, and another thing. When something does come along and replace the mouse, you can be guaranteed that it won't be some Minority Report style hand-waving setup.

Thoughts?

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