The computer mouse turned 30 on Wednesday, as Silicon Valley celebrated the anniversary of a near legendary technology demonstration.
Wednesday was the anniversary of a milestone event: the demonstration by technology guru Doug Englebart and his crew of some ground-breaking computing innovations. The mouse was only one of them. Others included document sharing with simultaneous videoconferencing and arguably, the whole concept of personal computing.
"It was a destiny thing," remembered Alan Kay, vice president research and development at Disney (and former Apple Fellow). "I don't think it is possible for anyone to grasp what the demo really meant at the time."
Engelbart explained some of his reasoning of the time. "It was a huge faith that prices [of computers] were going to go down and performance was going to go up, and we would have to start figuring out how to harness this."
He worked from the hypothesis that people would have a computer available to them permanently, all day. A revolutionary concept at the time.
Engelbart's ultimate goal was to use the power of computers to assist the human intellect and help individuals work together. It is a goal he still works for today at the Bootstrap Institute, which he founded.
While 9 December, 1968, marks the first public demonstration of the mouse, the device was actually invented some years earlier, in 1963. The first mouse was a angular wooden box, not unlike the mouse that came with the first Macintosh - 15 years later.
The original mouse was used to navigate NLS (for oN-Line System), a prototype multi-user collaboration system developed by Engelbart's team at the Stanford Research Institute. While NLS offered much of the features of present day personal computers and even offered document sharing features beyond that of many PCs, one notable feature was missing: the graphical user interface. NLS was controlled by a series of keystrokes - more than 500.
Some of Doug Engelbart's key collaborators in the 1968 demo, including Bill English, later went to work for Xerox, where they founded the legendary Palo Alto Research Center. There, the mouse was brought together with the graphical user interface to develop the prototype of the present day PC: the Alto.
In 1984, Apple shipped the Mac, bringing to market many of the concepts first pioneered by Engelbart and brought to fruition at PARC.
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