Mouse creator and tech pioneer Douglas Engelbart dies


The man who invented the computer mouse has died aged 88. Douglas Engelbart also played a key role in the development of many modern computing concepts.

An electrical engineering graduate and wartime radar technician, Engelbart worked at a forerunner to NASA before joining the Stanford Research Institute. He later formed the Augmentation Research Center.

Much of Engelbart’s work centered on breaking down the barriers between humans and computers and his vision played a major part in the conceptual transformation computers from huge devices operated by expert staff locked away in labs, to devices that ordinary people integrate into their daily lives.

The pinnacle of Engelbart’s career came in December 1968 at a conference in San Francisco when, in a single presentation, he publicly unveiled the computer mouse, gave the first public demonstration of videoconferencing, and discussed ideas including what we now know as the Windows-style interface, interactive document editing, and hypertext links among many others. Fortunately the presentation was recorded (Skip ahead to 1 minute 40 seconds):

(Special congratulations to the YouTube commenter who noted the irony of six people clicking on the Dislike button under the clip.)

The cliche about being years ahead of your time was certainly true with Engelbart’s creation of the mouse (pictured) in 1963. The patent on it ran out in 1987, meaning it generated few royalties before the device became ubiquitous. In any case, the patent was in the name of the Stanford Research Institute.

Engelbart didn’t come up with the name, which wasn’t used until a couple of years later and stems from the idea of a connecting cord — which originally came from the end nearer the user — being like a tail. In the patent document, the name used was the less catchy “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System.”

While running his own lab, Engelbart helped develop ARPANet, a US government network of researcher that used many of the key technologies that developed into the wider Internet.