Obituary: Father Of The Mouse, Interactivity Douglas Engelbart

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Douglas Engelbart
Douglas Engelbart


Douglas Engelbart, the inventor of the computer mouse and one of the key people behind the development of what would become the Internet, has died at the age of 88.

Portland, Ore., native Engelbart died in his Atherton, Calif., home Tuesday of kidney failure, according to the New York Times.

In addition to the invention of the computer mouse, Engelbart is also credited with developing and nurturing many of the technologies computer users today take for granted.


[Related: Douglas Engelbart: Father Of Interactivity]

Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie told CRN in 2001 that Engelbart's work was "fundamental to the industry."

"The mouse, graphical editing and windowing, object addressing and linking, and thus hypermedia, outline processing, version control, teleconferencing and remote meetings, distributed client/server computing and many other things that are quite common today are direct descendants of work that he pioneered," Ozzie said.

Many of those technologies were first shown in December of 1968 at the civic auditorium in downtown San Francisco when Engelbart took the stage during the 1968 Fall Joint Computing Conference.

During his presentation, which even today is often referred to as "the mother of all demos," Engelbart sat below a large video screen that showed both his face as he spoke and his hands as they entered commands into an off-site computer system located about 30 miles away at his Menlo Park, Calif., lab. Communication with the system was via some microwave towers, television channels rented from the local phone company, and a homemade modem.

One of the devices Engelbart used to input commands was what he called a "mouse," which looked like a small plastic box on wheels.

That demo, which included an early graphical user interface (GUI) and technologies related to linking and online collaboration, could easily have backfired, causing the dismissal of Engelbart and his at-the-time unpopular ideas, Engelbart told CRN in 2001.

"We stuck our necks out like you wouldn't believe," he said.

But after his 90-minute demonstration, Engelbart was surprised when the audience gave him a standing ovation. "My jaw dropped because everybody was standing up applauding," he said.

That kind of apprehension over whether the idea of manipulating a screen with a mouse was no surprise to John Zammett, president of HorizonTek, a Huntington, N.Y.-based solution provider.

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