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Douglas Engelbart Dies At 88, Invented Computer Mouse


And a remembrance, now. The, a computer visionary best known for inventing the mouse has died. As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, the mouse was just one small piece of what Douglas Engelbart contributed to the development of personal computers.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: One astute Silicon Valley observer remarked that saying Doug Engelbart invented the mouse is a little like saying that Henry Ford invented the steering wheel. Engelbart first showed it off, along with many other inventions, at a conference in San Francisco for computer professionals in 1968. Most of them were interacting with computers as a big as a football field with punch cards. An amazed audience looked on as Engelbart sat in front of a computer screen with a keyboard and a mouse.

DOUGLAS ENGELBART: We start by building an instrument that we can sit at and work during our day to organize the kind of working information we need as a task force developing systems.

SYDELL: Engelbart actually made a joke about the mouse.

ENGELBART: I don't know why we call it a mouse. Sometimes, I apologize. It started that way and we never did change it.

SYDELL: Obviously, the name stuck. Engelbart also showed how computers could connect over a network and how two people on different computers could work on a document at the same time and...

ENGELBART: Come in, Menlo Park.

SYDELL: ...Engelbart held the first ever video conference in front of the audience.

ENGELBART: OK. There's Don Andrews's hand in Menlo Park.

SYDELL: Engelbart and his team at the Stanford Research Institute introduced so many new inventions and ideas that day that computer professionals dubbed it the mother of all demos. Many of his inventions would go on to become crucial to the personal computer revolution - though Engelbart almost never profited. For example, by the time the mouse was made popular by Steve Jobs and Apple computer in the 1980s, the patent on it had run out. Though much of Engelbart's work helped make computers easier to use, that wasn't his major goal.

PAUL SAFFO: In fact, he was mildly appalled by the Macintosh.

SYDELL: Paul Saffo, who teaches at Stanford, was a friend of Engelbart's. He says Engelbart wasn't thinking in bigger terms.

SAFFO: Doug's vision was to create a new home for the human mind, to turn digital technology into powerful tools that would help us meet the ever greater challenges on this planet.

SYDELL: The Computer History Museum where Engelbart was a fellow said it was notified of his death by his daughter, who said he died in his sleep. He was 88 years old. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.
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