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back to article Douglas Engelbart, PC pioneer and creator of the mouse, dies at 88

Douglas Engelbart, the creator of the computer mouse and the man who pushed the computer industry into the graphical user interface age, has died in his California home at the age of 88 from kidney failure. Douglas Engelbart and mouse Douglas Engelbart and the first mouse In 1967 Engelbart filed Patent No. 3,541,541 for "X-Y …

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Anonymous Coward

It's probably no coincidence that the mouse didn't really take off big time until the patent ran out. Although I'm not sure if Commodore or Atari even licenced it? they were doing mice in 1985 and the patent expired in 1987.

People who think WIMP is dead due to touch screens probably aren't using their computer creatively. The time before the mouse was very frustrating.

The mouse-less computer was like the mobile phone without a touch screen. Drawing anything on the screen was like using an etch-a-sketch.

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Anonymous Coward

And yet

No one has come up with a better idea.

No touch screens don't cut it I'm afraid.

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Silver badge

I think it probably is a coincidence. I was using computers with mice well before 1987. Back then, the mouse was an inferior but cheaper interface compared to a track-ball. A 2-axis joystick was also sometimes used. Given that the computer cost a 4- or 5-figure sum, the added cost of a track-ball wasn't a particularly noticeable extra and neither would the royalties on a mouse have been. Mice took off when computers got cheap enough that the cost of the interface device became a significant part of the system price.

Mouse evolution: each was perceived as a huge leap forward in quality.

Mk. 1 two wheels scraping on desk. Diagonal motion had a very nonlinear relation to vertical or horizontal motion!

Mk. 2A one ball scraping on desk, driving two wheels inside the mouse. Contact rotation sensing. These mice degraded quite rapidly as the contacts wore out or got dirty.

Mk. 2B as Mk. 2A, but with optical rotation sensing.

Mk. 3, optical mouse with no moving parts, as is universal(?) today. Early versions required the use of a mouse-mat with a particular pattern printed on it. Losing the mat was like losing the mouse!

Youngsters have probably never experienced the joys of trying to get the accumulated fluff and sticky muck off the rollers and wheels in a physical-contact mouse.

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Re: And yet

The track-ball was probably better, at least until the modern optical mouse (no moving parts) arrived. You can still buy them. They cost a bit more.

For driving a CAD or artistic-design system, track-pads(*) with pens or wands remain commonly in use. Absolute rather than relative position control. Again, better, but definitely a lot more expensive.

The mouse is definitely the best idea if cost is factored in.

(*) not to be confused with the finger-sensing track-pad on a laptop.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: And yet

"For driving a CAD or artistic-design system, track-pads(*) with pens or wands remain commonly in use"

No they don't, not for CAD at least.

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Silver badge

Re: And yet

CAD pads? I can't swear to how common, but I saw one being used for CAD a couple of days ago. Wacom still has a business making them.

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Maybe they will know him now.

By coincidence, just last week, apropos of us not knowing our own, I wrote this:"

"Doug Engelbart is still alive as I write this. I wonder what percentage of people whose livings depend upon his work have even heard of him. You would probably need a decimal point to express it in numbers."

It is a shame that these people have to die to get noticed.

[http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/06/27/2013_internet_hall_of_fame_inductees/]

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Happy

Re: Maybe they will know him now.

> It is a shame that these people have to die to get noticed.

but:

"he has scooped most of the top awards, including the Turing Prize, the US National Medal of Technology,a British Computer Society's Lovelace Medal, and Yale's first honorary doctorate of engineering and technology."

I think he was noticed by the people who matter. I'd rather achieve recognition by my peers than celebrity status.

it seems strange that windowing environments and mice were not designed as a single thing, they go together so well.

Thanks Doug, I like using my mouse.

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Re: Maybe they will know him now.

Re: "I think he was noticed by the people who matter. I'd rather achieve recognition by my peers than celebrity status."

Agreed; moi aussi. Still, he fueled the popular imagination. He belongs there as well.

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Re: Maybe they will know him now.

I think the problem came about because he did slip in to obscurity as the world was not yet ready for his work. After all just how many of the general world (and a lot of the IT world) have heard of him, or Joseph Licklider. Without the pair of them we'd almost certainly not have the computer aided world we have today.

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Unhappy

You might like to compare that demo with what most people's desktops can do today.

Turn text into a file and vice versa seamlessly

Bush's essay (IIRC "As we may think") set a lot of heads thinking.

I'm sad to see another of the 1st generation pass.

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Bronze badge

What a shame

They're dropping off like flies at the moment, all these great pioneers. There seems to be an obituary every few days for people who, in their younger days, contributed their tremendous ingenuity towards advancing computer technology. There's a feeling of loss when someone whose work and mind have helped to improve millions of people's lives leaves us for good. It feels like they leave a hole that cannot be easily filled. But what can you do? It's part of the human condition.

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Unhappy

Re: What a shame

They're dropping off like flies at the moment, all these great pioneers. There seems to be an obituary every few days "

I was thinking the same. Then I reminded myself what year this is. These people pioneering computing were at their peak aged 20-30 back in the 40's, 50's and 60's so most of them are in the 70's or 80's now .

So, not really surprising. More sort of inevitable I suppose.

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Linux

Re: What a shame

"But what can you do? It's part of the human condition."

I prefer to disagree and don't be okay with that last paragraph. I think we can even overcome dead. Not being okay with our current capabilities is exactly what this great people were/are made of, I hope we soon overflow the world with people like them.

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

George Bernard Shaw

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Patent expiry not necessarily required

"It's probably no coincidence that the mouse didn't really take off big time until the patent ran out."

That didn't seem to be a problem back in the day: I (briefly) had my mitts on a mouse in 1980, attached to an ICL Perq, which was demoing word-processing and drawing apps at an internal BBC technology show in 1980. That was a good 4 years before the Apple Lisa appeared. I used one of those too, but IMO the Perq was better, faster (and probably cost more as well as being a lot bigger): I remember being more than somewhat impressed.

That technology show was packed with great stuff, but the the two items I really remember were the Perq and the NRDC Surround Sound system, which beat the crap out of any other 3D sound system I've heard since.

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Silver badge

pioneer of a frontier

Early computing was very wild west, the first completely new thing since radio waves in many ways. Holds and valleys were invented before being fought over, before them there was nothing. Computing went through the most staggeringly rapid evolution and those early pioneers more or less invented the metaphors and language that everybody afterwards used. Real trailblazing stuff.

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Bronze badge

Strange how the obvious is so very, very difficult

It's taken me a long time to move from the mindset of solving tech problems to making computers easy to use. It takes a special mind to escape from CLIs & raw tech and reach *naturally* for WYSIWYG, mice etc & putting the user first. I know this because I spent a lot of time thinking about how to improve the user experience before WIMPs, and I never 'got' it. He did.

I'll never have the natural talent for that that guys like this have, but slowly I'm getting there with their help.

Shoulders of giants, though another has fallen.

RIP.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It takes a special mind to ... reach *naturally* for WYSIWYG, mice etc & putting the user first.

And it only takes an idiot to undo all the good work and come up with what they want to be the latest fashion in user interfaces, for the benefit of their profit, their ego, or both.

Those real advances, give or take a regular tweak here and there, were, and are, few and far between, and, being truly good and workable ideas, they have enormous longevity: a fact that does not suit those who just want to peddle their latest version.

Few were the giants. Few are those who succeed in even standing on their shoulders. Rather more are those that try, and fall flat on their faces.

The mouse, of course, seems to endure all.

(Now, can I have one without microswitches that stop working in a few months, controlled by touch alone, that works perfectly with Linux? Please. When I find one, I'm going to call it Engelbart)

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Happy

I'm standing on the shoulders of giants

Thank you sir. You made my I.T. life and I suspect others a whole lot easier.

Godspeed.

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Pint

Here is to Douglas Engelbart!

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Anonymous Coward

Indeed, here's to Douglas Engelbart!

I shall use my mouse all day, this day, in his honour. Nay, not just a day, but I shall use it all week, all year!

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Silver badge

Rats!

If nothing else, this reminds you of your own mortality.

At age 51, I am hardly in the same bracket as the real pioneers, but I am old enough to have used slide rules, punch cards and such in real use and not just gawked at them in glass cases at museums.

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Pint

A toast to Douglas Engelbart

Now that is what I understand as innovation - Cheers Sir, & rest ye gentle soul.

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Anonymous Coward

What a stupid remark!

« What did you need with window-like boxes on the screen for different applications and text editors when simply keying in code or using punch cards would achieve the same result? »

Don't they have any idea how many xterms you can have open at the same time with different windows?

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Visioinary

I true visionary and believer in the power of computing to make people's lives better.

RIP, Doug.

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rlc

VAIL

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rlc

vVAIL

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Thumb Up

Doug: thanks

Another of the great ones passes away. An innovator and a visionary in the real sense. Doug Engelbart didn't only think about computers, he thought about people.

He is the reason my cat is called Engelbart.

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Pint

Re: the reason my cat is called Engelbart.

A beer, sir! Have a beer

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Silver badge

Rest in peace, my friend.

See you on the other side ... if there is one ;-)

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Anonymous Coward

Revisionism must be challenged

Nice one, Douglas.

I've encountered clueless marketing drones that got the Jobs biography for Christmas, that took it upon themselves to decide that Apple invented the mouse, and the GUI, and just about anything seminal to do with the way we interoperate with computers now. We should 'take inspiration from their inspiration', they issued, in a ditty. I'm heaving as I type this.

We know the truth, and should always try to make sure others do - before what is common knowledge now among us, begins to pale against populist ignorance and only those of us that care for computing history know the real deal.

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Re: Revisionism must be challenged

Apple invented drag and drop, pull-down menus and lots of other things we consider now fundamental but it did so only after paying Xerox for access to its work and in an environment where the fundamentals had already been established by Engelbart and others.

So the revisionists that claim that Apple invented the GUI, mouse, etc, are way off the mark but since they tend to end up in arguments with [lower-order] revisionists on the anti-Apple side it's not worth holding your breath for a balanced view to emerge.

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Re: Revisionism must be challenged

“I've encountered clueless marketing drones that got the Jobs biography for Christmas, that took it upon themselves to decide that Apple invented the mouse, and the GUI, and just about anything seminal to do with the way we interoperate with computers now.”

If only that had taken it upon themselves to actually read the book as well! Isaacson’s biography was by no means perfect (it’s quite clear that technology isn’t a subject that’s his strong point) but giving the impression that Apple invented those things certainly isn’t one of its flaws. It’s *very* clear that Apple didn’t do any such thing in the biography.

But in any case, R.I.P. Doug.

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Paris Hilton

What ?????? Heresy I hear cried !!!!!

squeals of horror from fanbois/girls and jobsian cultist.....

What do you mean ??? steve jobs invented everything, apple are responsible for everything dontchya know.....

your article will lead to hordes of sales associate/partner/whatevers in apple stores across the world fainting in horror as the realisation hits them :-)

RIP Doug Engelbart you are a legend, a true innovator, more worthy of a cult than others, including Paris :-)

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Re: What ?????? Heresy I hear cried !!!!!

>> your article will lead to hordes of sales associate/partner/whatevers in apple stores across the world fainting in horror as the realisation hits them :-)

Hardly. Fanbois of any sort, Apple or otherwise, have long ago mastered the art of doublethink.

Ave, Engelbart, those who are still alive salute you.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: fainting in horror as the realisation hits them

Don't worry: it won't.

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Anonymous Coward

presumably

someone will drag him to the recycle bin

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Bronze badge

Nice bloke too

I remember him demonstrating his piano-style "chord" keyboard and mouse plugged into a command-line MSDOS-based monochrome PC and getting text scrolling all over the screen (up, down, diagonally) as he worked on editing it. He also explained about stuff they tried that did not work so well before they came up with the mouse concept. (eg: a device which used your knee to move the cursor - not very precise!)

A very clever man, very good presenter/demonstrator. One of the industry giants.

RIP Doug.

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Pint

The funeral arrangements have just been announced ... It will be a drag and drop affair

Here's a glass raised to you Mr Engelbart, sleep well!

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