Douglas Engelbart, The Man Behind The Mouse, Dies
July 4, 2013

Douglas Engelbart, The Man Behind The Mouse, Dies

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Dr. Douglas Engelbart, the man who invented the computer mouse and reportedly developed early incarnations of email and word processing software, died Wednesday in his Atherton, California home at the age of 88.

His passing was confirmed to Associated Press (AP) Technology Writer Michael Liedtke by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where he had been a fellow since 2005.

The museum said they had been notified of his death via email by his daughter, Christina. John Markoff of the New York Times reported Dr. Engelbart's wife, Karen O'Leary, said kidney failure was the cause of the technology pioneer's death.

According to Bloomberg reporter Laurence Arnold, Dr. Engelbart filed a patent in 1967 for what he described as an "X-Y position indicator control for movement by the hand over any surface to move a cursor over the display on a cathode ray tube, the indicator control generating signals indicating its position to cause a cursor to be displayed on the tube at the corresponding position."

That patent, which was the last of 21 resulting from Dr. Engelbart's work at the Stanford Research Institute -- now SRI International -- was granted in 1970. He developed the hand-sized, wheel-based device in 1963 as an alternative to keyboard arrow keys to help move the cursor on a computer screen, Arnold wrote. It was one of several contributions he made to the world of computing.

"Beginning in the 1950s, when computing was in its infancy, Dr. Engelbart set out to show that progress in science and engineering could be greatly accelerated if researchers, working in small groups, shared computing power. He called the approach 'bootstrapping' and believed it would raise what he called their 'collective IQ,'" Markoff wrote.

However, he was working at a time when computers were essentially "room-size calculating machines that were not interactive and could be used by only a single person at a time," he added. While working at a government aerospace laboratory in California, the doctor "had what might be called a complete vision of the information age."

What he envisioned was himself, sitting in front of a large computer screen that was full of various symbols -- a picture he most likely came up with working on radar consoles for the Navy following World War II, according to Markoff. Dr. Engelbart believed the screen could serve as a display for a workstation that would be able to organize all of the data, information and communication associated with a specific project.

A decade later, he created an experimental research group at SRI, and in December 1968, he revealed the fruits of his team's efforts during a 90-minute presentation at a computer conference in San Francisco. Among the innovations he unveiled that day, Arnold wrote, were "interactive computing, video conferencing, windows display and hypertext," as well as the "three-button controller he used to control the cursor on the screen."

"The computer mouse burst into public consciousness in the 1980s... then finally becoming an integral part of computers sold by Apple Inc. and International Business Machines Corp.," the Bloomberg reporter added. "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."

Despite the device's success over the years, however, Dr. Engelbart never saw a dime in royalties from his invention, Arnold reported. Liedtke explained his patent had a 17-year life span and entered the public domain in 1987. Since the mid-1980s, more than one billion of the devices have been sold worldwide.

Furthermore, Markoff wrote, Dr. Engelbart developed a computerized system which allowed researchers to easily share information, as well as create and retrieve documents in a sort of electronic library. He called his system the "oNLine System" (NLS), and in 1969, it became the application for which the ARPAnet computer network, the progenitor of what was to become the modern Internet, was created.