The notion of operating the inside of a computer with a tool on the outside was way ahead of its time when Engelbart began working on it. The mouse didn’t become commercially available until 1984, with the released of Apple’s then-revolutionary Macintosh, a prelude to future breakthroughs such as the iPhone and iPad.
All of those devices were conceived by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in October 2011. Although Jobs’ contributions to personal technology are far better known, Engelbart left an indelible mark, too.
“There are only a handful of people who were as influential,” said Marc Weber, founder and curator of the Internet history program at the Computer History Museum, where Engelbart had been a fellow since 2005.
“He had a complete vision of what computers could become at a very early stage. He was thinking about these things when computers were used just for calculations and number crunching. They weren’t interactive at all, so it was pretty radical at the time.”
Engelbart conceived the computer mouse so early in the evolution of computers that he and his colleagues didn’t profit much from it. The mouse patent had a 17-year life span, allowing the technology to pass into the public domain in 1987. That prevented Engelbart from collecting royalties on the mouse when it was in its widest use. At least 1 billion have been sold since the mid-1980s.
Although computer mice remain prevalent, their usage is waning as people increasingly control smartphones and tablets in an even simpler way: by merely swiping their finger across a display screen. But the leap to touch-screen controls might not have been made if the mouse hadn’t simplified computing in the first place.
Among Engelbart’s other key developments in computing, along with his colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute and his own lab, the Augmentation Research Center, was the use of multiple windows. Engelbart’s lab also helped develop ARPANet, the government research network that led to the Internet.<< previous 1 2 3 next >>