- Dates: September 2009 to 2010
- Description: A computer mouse with multiple buttons branded with the logo of the Open Office organisation. Also known as the ‘WarMouse’ — sold with a different colour scheme.
- Significant Figure: Theodore Beale
September 2009: Prestigious technology/culture magazine WIRED announced a remarkable new peripheral for computer users:
“Over on the free-software side of the world, things are a little different. If the phrase “design by committee” ever sent an icy pang of fear into your heart, then look away now. The Open Office organization, behind the splendid free MS Word alternative of the same name, have come up with a mouse with not one button, but 18, all of which can be double clicked, if you can actually contort your fingers to reach them.”https://www.wired.com/2009/11/18-button-open-office-mouse-makes-a-keyboard-look-minimal/
16 buttons on the top of the mouse, two buttons on the side, a scroll wheel and a small analogue joystick for your thumb, the OpenOffice Mouse had it all or rather had far too much of everything. The press release for the new mouse raised more questions than it answered.
“Orvieto, Italy, November 6, 2009: WarMouse announced the release of the OOMouse, the first multi-button application mouse designed for a wide variety of software applications, including Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk AutoCAD, Microsoft Office, and OpenOffice.org. With a revolutionary and patented design featuring 18 buttons, an analog joystick, and support for as many as 52 key commands, the OOMouse is intended to provide a faster and more efficient user interface for most complex software applications than the conventional icons, pull-down menus, and hotkeys presently permit.”https://web.archive.org/web/20091110225732/http://www.openofficemouse.com/pr110609.html
Specifically, the questions it raised were why would anybody want this and what did it have to do with Open Office? For those who don’t recall, Open Office was a suite of productivity software (word processing, spreadsheet etc.) intended to both rival Microsoft Office and be a freeware, open-source alternative. The brand at the time was owned by Sun Microsystems but the development of the software was by a community of enthusiasts [you can read more about it here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenOffice.org ]
Mice with extra buttons were not new for gaming applications but the idea of a mouse like this for productivity software was a very odd one. Wordprocessing and spreadsheet use is typically very keyboard-centric and switching to a mouse to do tasks would be less than ideal for somebody spending a lot of time on these applications. Unsurprisingly, the announcement drew a lot of puzzlement from reviewers.
One area of puzzlement was the role of the Open Office Organisation in this strange-looking device. The press release had coincided with an announcement of the mouse at the OOoCon 2009 in Orvieto, Italy and the final paragraph of the release contained what appeared to be an endorsement by John McCreesh, Marketing Project Lead at OpenOffice.org. However, by November 10 a further press release clarified matters.
OpenOffice.org Clarifies Status of the “OpenOffice Mouse”https://web.archive.org/web/20091113093057/http://www.prweb.com/releases/2009/11/prweb3187294.htm
The OpenOffice.org Community and WarMouse today issued the following statement to clarify the relationship between the two organisations
November 10, 2009 — Contrary to recent press reports, the OpenOffice.org Community has no plans to ship a multi-button office application mouse by February next year. The “OpenOffice Mouse” demonstrated at the Community’s Conference on 4th November will be produced by WarMouse, an independent company with no business relationship with either the OpenOffice.org Community, or with Sun Microsystems, the owner of the OpenOffice.org trademark.
Louis Suarez-Potts, OpenOffice.org Community Manager
Theodore Beale, WarMouse Lead Designer
Tech news site Engadget described the confusion:
“Yes, the multi-buttoned mouse is still all too real (in prototype form, at least), and supposedly set for a release… sometime, but it seems that mouse’s creator got a bit ahead of himself in slapping the OpenOffice name on it. As it happens, the mouse was apparently officially presented at the recent OOoConference in Italy to judge the reaction from the OpenOffice community, but the relationship ended there, and the mouse’s creator was never given permission to market the mouse with the OpenOffice name (probably a wise move). Not one to be deterred, WarMouse now seems to simply be referring to the mouse as the OOMouse — don’t worry though, you can still call it “ugly.””https://www.engadget.com/2009-11-09-openoffice-distances-itself-from-openofficemouse-joins-everyone.html
However, the same report would later clarify:
“Update: The OOMouse creators have contacted us to give their side of the story, claiming that they have emails granting permission to use OpenOffice.org’s logo. In their words, “Due to the massive confusion about OpenOffice.org producing the mouse and the numerous questions about the mouse working with programs other than OpenOffice.org, we have mutually agreed with Sun to change the name of the mouse and cease using the OpenOffice.org logo.”ibid
The OOMouse dropped the white colour scheme and became an all-black affair and adopted the name of the company behind it: WarMouse. The emphasis also shifted from the improbable use-case of productivity software to a gaming device. By March 2010, a working prototype was available for review.
“Yes, that’s right, you use the mouse with three fingers. Your pointing finger is responsible for the left mouse button and the buttons A1 through A7, your middle finger is responsible for scroll wheel and B1 through B6, and your ring finger is responsible for the right mouse button and B7. You have to get used to it, but using the mouse with only two fingers is slower and would be ergonomically irresponsible. Furthermore, the joystick and mouse top are still to receive a rubber coating and some of the buttons are a little uneven. These are things that will be done once the mouse goes into production.”https://web.archive.org/web/20100313150144/http://www.techzine.nl/blogs/gadget/639/hands-on-review-warmouse-meta-english.html
Eventually, versions of the mouse were sold and shipped…and then early adopters were shipped replacement versions because the initial versions didn’t work very well. From the story fades away. By January 2012, the WarMouse was still being sold for about $80 but the overly buttoned device never caught on.
The Right-Wing connection: So why does this strange device deserve a place in the Museum of Right-Wing Gadgets? Regular readers will have already spotted the involvement of Theodore Beale aka Vox Day, the far-right nationalist. The mouse itself wasn’t intrinsically right-wing but there are a number of features in the nature of the product that echo elements of Day’s political career.
- Capitalist anti-capitalism: WarMouse pitched itself as a rebel company fighting against the design-ideology of Apple (famous for mice with one button and a mouse with no visible buttons) and the software dominance of Microsoft. This reflects a mode of thinking among the quasi-libertarian right that capitalism is not inherently flawed but has somehow been captured by corrupt elites. That idea then slides into more direct racism and conspiratorial thinking on the far-right.
- Co-opting an online community: The Open Office Organisation was a community of developers which WarMouse made use of to garner free publicity for a commercial product. The community garned some initial negative publicity (e.g. the WIRED article quoted at the start) for the apparent absurdity of the mouse. This wasn’t terribly damaging but the similarity with later moves by Day to co-opt the Sad Puppy campaigns and the Comicsgate campaigns for his own commercial ventures is notable.
- Gadgetyness: 7/10 a definite gadget but not particularly unusual technology. Primarily a repackaging of existing technology, so a few points lost for being relatively conventional.
- Ideologicalness: 3/10 A noted right wing figure was behind the gadget but there’s nothing inherently right-wing about a mouse.
- Actualness: 10/10 this was a real product (in its black WarMouse form) that a person could actually buy and use (assuming a degree of fine motor skill and hand/eye coordination)