Visionary Always Decades Ahead in Computer Design
DOUGLAS ENGELBART, BEST KNOWN as the designer of the first computer mouse, passed away from natural causes Tuesday at age 88. A true visionary, he was always so far ahead of others' thinking that he had trouble getting people to understand and accept his concepts of the future.
Engelbart arrived at his crowning moment relatively early in his career, on a winter afternoon in 1968, when he delivered an hour-long presentation containing so many far-reaching ideas that it would be referred to decades later as the "mother of all demos."
Speaking before an audience of 1,000 leading technologists in San Francisco, Engelbart, a computer scientist at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), showed off a cubic device with two rolling discs called an "X-Y position indicator for a display system." It was the mouse's public debut.
Engelbart then summoned, in real-time, the image and voice of a colleague 30 miles (48 km) away. That was the first videoconference. And he explained a theory of how pages of information could be tied together using text-based links, an idea that would later form the bedrock of the Web's architecture.
Keep in mind that in 1968 there was no such thing as a home – or office – computer. They were still huge machines that filled large rooms and had about one-tenth the computing power of your cell phone.
In an obituary posted by the Wall Street Journal, they write:
Mr. Engelbart played a key role in inventing or refining other building blocks for PCs and the Web–including bitmapped computer displays, word processing and the concept of navigating online by pointers known as links.
Mr. Engelbart has said he got the idea for the mouse in 1961. It used two wheels–one turning vertically, the other horizontally–to help locate a cursor on a computer screen. The first prototype was built by his lead engineer, Bill English.
During the 1968 demonstration, he showed off other concepts like editing text on a computer display, use of multiple computer windows and video conferencing. He called his suite of innovations the "online system," or NLS.
Mr. Engelbart resisted being identified with the mouse or other specific inventions, preferring to see his broader role in a collaborative vision he called Collective IQ. "The mouse was just a tiny piece of a much larger project, aimed at augmenting human intellect," Mr. Engelbart told Superkids Educational Software Review in 2003.
Use your mouse to click on the link to the full Wall Street Journal obituary HERE.
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