Man and mouse

Personal computing today is shaped by Douglas Engelbart's vision

Anyone who has ever used a mouse to click into a virtual world owes gratitude to Douglas Engelbart, the "father of the mouse" and so much more, who died at 88 on July 2. Engelbart was a true visionary in an industry where the label is thrown around all too easily. Apart from inventing the mouse, Engelbart was instrumental in designing the graphical user interface (GUI), which we can all be grateful to for liberating us from the intimidating tedium of command line inputs, and also bootstrapping the ARPAnet, more famously known as the precursor to the internet.

Engelbart was responsible for some of the more basic computing technologies that we take for granted today, but were far from the norm in the 1960s. Computers were big machines back then, and human interaction with them was conducted largely through punch cards, thus making it difficult for anyone without a computer science degree to talk to the machines. Engelbart's now-legendary 1968 presentation in San Francisco, "the mother of all demos", changed that. In a tour de force of creativity and innovation, he showed off his work to a group of the world's best computer scientists: there was the mouse, yes, but he also showcased probably the first iterations of video conferencing, teleconferencing, hypertext, word processing, hypermedia, object addressing and dynamic file linking, and a collaborative real-time editor. We've only now caught up with some of those ideas.

Engelbart's imagination shaped the way we interact with computers. He saw computing as a way to augment human intellect, and provided many of the tools so necessary for the exploration of ideas in a way that aids "collective intelligence" the ability of teams to develop solutions that might elude individuals a notion he passionately believed in.

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