The Mouse and John Sculley, an Anecdote

My friend Roman Mars' podcast, 99% Invisible, just posted its latest episode, Of Mice and Men, about the history of the computer mouse. It's a terrific walk through the mouse's success and the lack of interest in single-hand or chording keysets. I provided some feedback to an early script, mostly around the edges of some historical facts, and the final story is absolutely dead on. (You can listen below in the browser.)

This reminded me of a short encounter when I worked at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging in Camden, Maine. The short-lived teaching facility had 100 Mac IIfx models and millions of dollars of the most advanced storage, scanning, and camera gear available. We also had regular invitational events with artists and others.

At one such event in 1992, John Sculley, then Apple's CEO, attended. (He had a house in Camden at the time, too.) Kodak was using the event partly to show off Atex Renaissance, its desktop-publishing software that was going to compete against QuarkXPress and Aldus PageMaker.

The various Kodak product managers were helping the invited guests in our large computer lab use the software to create things. One was helping Sculley.

Kodak person: "Just type Command-K and it will format the text."
Sculley: "How do I do that with a mouse?"
K: "You can't. The keyboard is better."
Sculley: Pause. "No. It isn't."

He's a nice guy and that wasn't a chilling moment, but even the Kodak manager realized she'd stepped in it, telling the CEO of the company that had popularized the mouse to the extent that the mouse was closely associated with its brand that the keyboard is better.

The moment passed, and so did the software, which never caught on.