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Douglas Engelbart: The Man Behind Your Mouse (And a Lot More)

486px-Douglas_Engelbart_in_2008If it weren’t for Douglas Engelbart, the computer on your desk might still be little more than a glorified typewriter, and you might still be struggling to remember arcane DOS commands so you could type them into a luminous green C:\ prompt on a black screen. And the multimedia marvels of the Web might not have ever existed.

As computer historian Howard Rheingold once wrote, “We wouldn’t be sitting in front of personal computers today if it wasn’t for him.”

Back in the 1960s, Engelbart led a team at Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) that basically invented the modern graphical computer interface, as well as the computer mouse that enables us to navigate a world in which ideas are rendered as pictures. In 1968, at an engineering conference in San Francisco, Engelbart gave a famous presentation – known in the computer world as “the mother of all demos” – in which he dazzled an audience of computer wonks by showing for the first time how someone could use a mouse to cut and paste type into a document. He also showed that by clicking an underlined word or phrase – a hypertext link – it was possible to be transported to another document that contained more information. 

Here are some facts about Engelbart, who died on July 2 at age 88 in Atherton, Calif., and the wired world that he helped to create:


Photo: Engelbart in 2008 by Alex Handy via Wikipedia