Douglas C. Engelbart, a technological visionary whose many inventions included the computer mouse, died Tuesday at the age of 88.
Engelbart succumbed to kidney failure, according to his wife, Karen O-Leary Enelbart.
In the 1950s when computer mainframes took up entire rooms, Engelhart set out to prove that research could be accelerated by people working in small groups using shared computing power. He called this method “bootstrapping” and said it would improve the researchers’ “collective IQ.” Today the approach is also known as distributed computing.
Engelbart also described his work as “augmenting human intellect” and making computers more intuitive to use.
In the 1960s he developed a wooden shell covering two metal wheels and an “X-Y position indicator for a display system.” The device which was patented in 1970 became the predecessor of what we know today as the computer mouse. However, back then the idea of operating the inside of a computer with a tool outside of the machine was considered way ahead of its time.
The mouse did not become commercially available until 1984 when Apple Inc., released in with it Macintosh personal computer.
Engelbart and his colleagues did not profit much from the mouse. The device’s patent life was 17 years and by 1987 it had slipped into public domain.
His other key contributions to computing involved the use of multiple windows. This concept was developed along with his colleagues at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) which he helped establish which financial backing from the United States Air Force, NASA and the Advanced Research projects Agency.
Englebart also helped develop ARPAnet, the government research network that was precursor to the Internet. At his Augmented Research Centre, Engelbart created a comuterized system which he called “oNLine System” or NLS. In 1969, NLS became the application for which ARPAnet was created.
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