By now, most everyone has heard the stories/allegations that Steve Jobs and Apple stole away the idea of the computer mouse from Xerox’ Palo Alto research center back in the ’80s. What hasn’t been brought up as much is who, exactly, was behind that idea that Xerox was kicking around. That man was Douglas C. Engelbart, and sadly, he passed away on Tuesday at 88 years of age.
Engelbart had visions of a future with personal computers back in 1950, which should tell you all you need to know about the special kind of visionary he was. To that end, he founded the Augmentation Research Institute at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1960s, with the intention of augmenting human intelligence with computing power – exactly how the future turned out. He worked on ARPANET, and with research giants like NASA and DARPA.
Then, in 1968, he had his career highlight – nicknamed the Mother of All Demos, Engelbart essentially showed off word processing with a mouse, keyboard, and computer display.
He introduced ideas like selecting text with a cursor, and using that to copy and paste. Engelbart, in a lot of ways, helped set the groundwork for everything we do with computers today. The mouse, which was a novel part of Engelbart’s demo at the time, was an early version of Xerox’ three-button mouse, which was later adapted by others into more commercially successful and recognizable products today.
Engelbart’s first mouse was mechanics housed in a pinewood case – something that has a genuine chance at being popular today, come to think of it. Engelbart actually wanted as many as ten buttons, but was checked by the size of the case, probably for the better. Fans of gaming mice might disagree.
Engelbart’s contributions to the early Internet during the ARPANET project, his creation of the mouse, and his incredible vision made him one of the rare people on this Earth without whom the future would have surely turned out to be substantially different. He will be missed.