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Douglas Englebart - Computer industry pioneer

Monday, 08 Jul 2013

Douglas Englebart - Computer industry pioneer dies at 88

 

Douglas-EnglebartDouglas Engelbart, the visionary computer scientist who invented the computer mouse decades before the influx of personal computers into homes and workplaces, and contributed to the creation of the precursor of the internet, has died. He was 88. Engelbart's work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) resulted in 21 patents.
 
Naming the device

Douglas put it simply: the device resembled the rodent, with its cord as a tail. Years later he was bemused as to why a better name had not been used to describe the useful tool. "My first thought was that you'd think someone would have come up with a more appropriately dignified name for it by now."

The computer mouse became popular and more public in the 1980s after being refined at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre, arriving on the market with little commercial success as part of the Xerox Star computer in 1981, then finally becoming an key element of computers sold by Apple and International Business Machines (IBM).

Over the next three decades the mouse was offered in a rainbow of colors and in different styles: cordless, optical rather than mechanical, designed for left-handed use, ergonomically correct. Logitech International, the world's biggest computer mouse maker, introduced its first mouse for retail in 1985 and shipped its 500 millionth in 2003 and its billionth in 2008.

Inspiration for the internet

Another key contribution to human kind was Douglas’ contribution to the early days of the internet dream. Douglas drew inspiration whilst serving in the military when he read a book entitled As We May Think, an essay in the Atlantic Monthly by Vannevar Bush, head of US wartime scientific research and development.

In it, Bush predicted technological advancements that would lead to breakthroughs in human knowledge, including "a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanised private file and library," on which a person "stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanised so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility."

According to a biography written by his daughter, Christina Engelbart, by then he was envisioning "people sitting in front of cathode-ray-tube displays, 'flying around' in an information space where they could formulate and portray their concepts in ways that could better harness sensory, perceptual and cognitive capabilities heretofore gone untapped. Then they would communicate and collectively organise their ideas with incredible speed and flexibility."

ARPANET beginnings

In 1962 he produced a paper, Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework, building off Bush's work of two decades earlier.

The Engelbart-led lab at SRI contributed to creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), a predecessor of the internet.