This mouse has no tail!

This mouse has no tail!

When I worked on the Mail team, everyone in Software Engineering was “compelled” to use Mail as a way to help work out bugs in the early days of Mac OS X (now macOS). Some of the higher-ups in other organizations also were also using it.


Part of the deal for participating in this scary experiment was that if people encountered problems, I would immediately show up in their office and provide technical support to them. Not only did I meet virtually everyone on the Mac OS X team, but I also got to meet many of the directors, VPs, and executives.

More stripes! Image from GUIdebook.


As an amusing consequence of this, I would sometimes accidentally find out about future projects I was not supposed to know about. Email was king back then, so it’s difficult to provide support while looking away from the user’s screen so you don’t see anything. If someone not disclosed on what you’re working on, you’d typically lock your screen so they wouldn’t see anything. But my job was specifically to look at their screens and troubleshoot.

One of the most common things that happened would be someone having a problem with a specific email. The best way to troubleshoot was the get the raw source of the email. However, the raw source contains everything in the email, including attachments. I inadvertently learned about several designs from the Human Interface group before I should have, for example.

But my favorite story in this vein was when I was contacted by Jon Rubinstein, then the Senior VP of Hardware Engineering. I went up to his office to check out his problem. His office was arranged like many people working on sensitive projects. His desk was facing his door so that no one could see his display and no one could peek in without him knowing.

Casual Friday I guess?

He got out of his chair and motioned for me to sit down at his desk to debug the problem. I rested my hand on the mouse. I moved it a bit. It felt heavier than I expected. I looked down at it and although it was the right shape, it was milky white. Puzzled, I picked it up and noticed it had no cord attached. The shipping Apple Mouse at the time (2002) had a tail on it.

As it slowly dawned on me, I looked up at him. He slowly brought his index finger in front of his mouth. So, Apple might be working on a wireless mouse? I never told.

Not Jon Rubenstein.

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