Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart, Computing Pioneer (1925­ – 2013)

By: Dan York

Date: June 28, 2016

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The IETF Journal honors the memory of Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart, noted computer andInternet pioneer, who passed away on 2 July 2013. Pivotal in helping to define computing as we know it today, he is perhaps best known as the creator of the computer mouse.

Many of Engelbart’s most influential user-interface ideas were conceived and developed while at the Standard Research Institute (now SRI International) in the mid-1960s and 1970s, when computers were primarily viewed as number-crunching tools and were largely inaccessible to individuals. His most notable work at this time regarded the challenges of human­-computer interaction and culminated in a presentation by Engelbart and his team at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in 1968. Since dubbed the ‘Mother of All Demos,’ the presentation used what he called the oNLine System (NLS) to illustrate how researchers could share information and store documents within an electronic library. The demo included text editing, as well as video conferencing, hypertext, and dynamic file linking‹all using the mouse he had invented a few years earlier.

The 1968 demonstration is widely accepted as having inspired a generation and as comprising the roots of what we do online today. Alan Kay, a cofounder of Xerox PARC, said later, “The demo was one of the greatest experiences of my life – It reset the whole conception of what was reasonable to think about in personal computing.”

Engelbart went on to help the SRI lab host an early ARPAnet connection and to coordinate the operation of the Network Information Center (NIC), which controlled early domain names. He obtained more than a dozen patents and, among a host of other recognitions, accommodations, and awards, was the recipient of the National Medal of Technology, the Lemelson-M.I.T. Prize, and the Turing Award.