Computer visionary Douglas Engelbart, the maker of the mouse and other key inventions, has died. Even in the infancy of personal computing, Engelbart saw the machinery's potential for "augmenting human intellect."
If you use a computer mouse, communicate via any form of online live video- or audio-conferencing, or just use the Internet's wealth of cached data, Douglas C. Engelbart touched your life.
Engelbart's employer of 20 years SRI International and the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, both said late on Wednesday that the 88-year-old inventor had died the previous day. The cause of Engelbart's death was not immediately made public; SRI International simply said he "passed away peacefully at his home in Atherton, California, on July 2, 2013."
Engelbart became a household name in the technology trade in 1968, when he delivered what SRI called the "Mother of All Demos" in its obituary.
How it all began
In an age where some computers were the size of a living room, Engelbart appeared with a wooden shell covering two metal wheels. He called it an "X-Y position indicator for a display system." At the time, the idea of using an external, separate device to operate such a fundamental aspect of a computer broke new ground. It also ushered in the idea of operating a computer with a more user-friendly, graphical interface, as opposed to using programming code.
Ahead of his time
If that wasn't enough, Engelbart then launched the world's first ever computer conference call, summoning in real time the voice and image of his colleague located some 50 kilometers (31 miles) away. Finally, he explained to a stunned audience of around 1,000 industry experts how pages of information could be tied together using text-based links - a principle that later became the bedrock of the Internet's makeup.
"Doug was a giant who made the world a much better place and who deeply touched those of us who knew him," the president and CEO of SRI International, Curtis R. Carlson, said. "SRI was very privileged and honored to have him as one of our 'family.' He brought tremendous value to society. We will miss his genius, warmth and charm."
Engelbart won several major awards for his innovations, including the 1997 Turing Award named after the former World War II code-breaker Alan Turing widely considered the father of computer science.
Of mice and Mac
Engelbart's mouse was so far ahead of its time that he was not able to profit particularly from it. Apple's 1983 release of the Lisa - the unofficial mother of the Macintosh computer released the next year - was the first time a mouse was put on a commercially available personal computer. The patents on the invention, with a 17-year life span, expired in 1987 and the product passed into the public domain.
At least 1 billion have since been sold, although the technology may soon be overtaken by touch-screen systems already prevalent on modern smart phones and tablet computers.
Engelbart's daughter, Christina, is also his biographer; and the pioneer sought to stress that his breakthroughs were in fact a team effort.
"Many of those firsts came right out of the staff's innovations – even had to be explained to me before I could understand them," he said in the biography. "They deserve more recognition."
msh/lw (AP, dpa, Reuters)