Father of the Mouse Douglas C. Engelbart Dead at age 88

Posted by at 11:28 am on July 5, 2013

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Technologist Douglas C. Engelbart died on Tuesday night at the age of 88. The US Navy World War II veteran and Oregon State graduate is credited with inventing the “X-Y position indicator for a display system” which would later be known as the computer mouse, the first public video-conference, and the concept of text-based hyperlinks and interconnected computers, all in a far-reaching presentation that was later called “the mother of all demos” before 1,000 colleagues in San Francisco in 1968.

Engelbart sketched the first prototype of the computer mouse out, and tasked an engineering colleague to make the first prototype out of wood. The technology would later be licensed to Apple computer, who then released the first commercial computer mouse with the Apple Lisa in 1983, and made the tool an integral part of its computer systems.

The mouse went on to supplant text-based command input systems like DOS and was the cornerstone of both graphical operating systems and, until very recently, the modern computing experience. Though touch technology through trackpads and touchscreens threaten to supplant the mouse just it did the command line, the modern computer mouse still plays a vital role in precision work, and was the first input tool to make the computer feel like an extension of the operator’s hand, overcoming one of the major barriers of user resistance and introducing the idea that disabled people could also make use of the then-emerging technology.

Engelbart has won the National Medal of Technology, the Turing Award, the Lemelson-MIT prize, and the Yuri Rubinsky Memorial award, but called the last 20 years of his life a “failure” due to his inability to obtain more funding for his research. Engelbart was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, but passed away from kidney failure. He is survived by his wife, four children, and nine grandchildren.

 

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