Douglas Engelbart, the man who invented the mouse and mapped out the future of the internet decades before anyone else, has died aged 88.
Engelbart, in 1968, demoed a cubic device with two rolling discs called an “X-Y position indicator for a display system.” It was the first time the world had seen a mouse.
To cap it off Engelbart conducted the first video conference. And he explained a theory of how pages of information could be tied together using text-based links, an idea that would later form the bedrock of the web.
Engelbart should have been more wealthy than the Pope and be a household name, but he wasn’t because he belonged to an era when computing was mostly done by government researchers.
He didn’t want explosive wealth and did not receive any royalties for the mouse, which SRI patented and later licensed to Apple for $40,000. It released its first commercial mouse with the Lisa computer in 1983.
Apple’s Steve Jobs is still popularly acclaimed as the inventor of the mouse and made a killing off it and many Apple fanboys have no idea who Engelbart was.
But Engelbart was more of a futurist and loved the idea computers could be used to enhance the mind.
In 1961 he wrote a research proposal at SRI where he said that the possibilities involve an integrated man-machine working relationship.
Needless to say, for someone who was that much a visionary, he was ostracised by the status quo at different points of his life. What makes him significant was that he was proved right.
Tragically, he watched as entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became celebrity billionaires by realising some of his early ideas.
He felt that the last two decades of his life had been a failure because he could not receive funding for his research or “engage anybody in a dialogue”.
Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corporation told Reuters that the internet and the World Wide Web were an enormous vindication of his vision.
Kapor said that Engelbart was like Leonardo da Vinci envisioning the helicopter hundreds of years before they could actually be built.