July 3, 2013

"In December 1968, however, he set the computing world on fire with a remarkable demonstration..."

"At the time, the only way those and other scientists interacted with computers, the mainframe machines of their day, was by submitting stacks of punch cards to them and waiting hours for a printout of answers.... For the event he sat on stage in front of a mouse, a keyboard and other controls and projected the computer display on a 22-foot-high video screen behind him. In little more than an hour he showed how a networked, interactive computing system would allow information to be shared rapidly among collaborating scientists. He demonstrated how a mouse, which he had invented just four years earlier, could be used to control a computer. He demonstrated text editing, video conferencing, hypertext and windowing. In contrast to the mainframes then in use, Dr. Engelbart had created a computerized system he called the 'oNLine System' or NLS, which allowed researchers to share information seamlessly and to create and retrieve documents in the form of a structured electronic library."

Douglas C. Engelbart died yesterday at the age of 88.

46 comments:

edutcher said...

Most of the great advances in computing came out of Bell Labs or Xerox PARC. Nice to see the man who got a lot of the components started.

Dr Engelbart, thanks.

Methadras said...

IBM Labs as well. RIP sir and thank you for setting the stage.

MadisonMan said...

I used a mouse to comment.

Lem said...

Was our own Rh there?

Quaestor said...

Here's that groundbreaking demo from 1968.

Cedarford said...

Always a good laugh when you meet people educated in public schools or the mass media - that think Bill Gates and the Godlike Steve Jobs Himself invented all this stuff.

Tibore said...

So far ahead of his time. So far. RIP, doc.

cold pizza said...

Good on ya, Dr E! As a teenager back in the 70's, I spent my Saturdays in an air-conditioned trailer inside the SRI warehouse (just outside my father's lab) learning to program using the teletype machine and a graph plotter. Two things stand out about that setting: First was the wall-to-wall stretch of reel-to-reel mag-tape computers. Second was the 3'x5' cork board filled with what we would call "adult oriented images."

It appears easier access to porn is the driving force behind every great technology leap. NTTAWWT. -CP

Big Mike said...

Point of information. There were green screens in 1968 -- character-oriented CRT terminals. I know because I was there! By 1968 punched cards and punched paper tape were obsolete.

But the predominant mode was the command line. Even today Windows lets one enter commands (click on Start and then Run).

Original Mike said...

And 45 years later, Microsoft, in the guise of Windows 8, has set out to destroy all that.

Bob Ellison said...

The mouse was a very clever invention. It might be like the light bulb.

I think not, though. I think that control interfaces on the computer (the mouse is one) tend to grow fairly obvious. We have leaps when someone has a great idea, but those leaps would merely have been a few hops for other technologists. It's not like discovering that light travels at the same speed and time varies.

The Drill SGT said...

While SRI, PARC, IBM GE and Bell Labs all had a role, it is useful to point out that the glue that pulled the Internet, GPS, and a hundred other things were those evil guys at DoD running (D)ARPA. The NYT's manages to avoid saying ARPA or DARPA.

God Bless and thanks Dr E.

bagoh20 said...

That looks incredible! Where can I get one of those things?

I didn't watch the whole demo. Does he show how the government, business, and common thieves will steal all our private information?

cold pizza said...

A mouse? How quaint.. -CP

Original Mike said...

LOL.

I don't even have to click on the link, CP.

caplight45 said...

Another IT wonk trying to take away the credit from Al Gore. Shameless.

cold pizza said...

Mouse balls! -CP

cold pizza said...

Gotta remember to use "double dumbass on you" at some point. -CP

Quaestor said...

Here is Englebart's original mouse prototype. There's no scale in the picture, but it's about 3 1/4" x 2" and weighs about 2 pounds.

There are lots of tales about the etymology of mouse. I heard one which attributes the name to the daughter of Bill English, who was Engelbart's assistant at SRI. The story goes that the little girl thought something about as big as one hand that had a long skinny tail (the wire) should be called a mouse.

YoungHegelian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
YoungHegelian said...

Xerox had such a brilliant crew together at Palo Alto back then. It was too bad for them that they seemed to be unable to successfully commercialize the products they developed.

I remember seeing a Xerox computer system, with yes, a mouse & video screen on the desk of an administrative staffer for the Vice President back in 1983. It was the first & last Xerox computer I ever saw.

bagoh20 said...

I was learning computer science in college in 1981 and we still used punch cards, although they were on their way out as the school had just gotten new Apple II computers, and the command line was being taught in the next class in the series. That 1968 demo is way more advanced than anything we were learning in 1981, but that's one of the big problems with college education. They are always teaching what industry has moved passed long ago, or stuff they will never adopt in the first place.

YoungHegelian said...

Xerox had such a brilliant crew together at Palo Alto back then. It was too bad for them that they seemed to be unable to successfully commercialize the products they developed.

I remember seeing a Xerox computer system, with yes, a mouse & video screen on the desk of an administrative staffer for the Vice President back in 1983. It was the first & last Xerox computer I ever saw.

(Posting #2. Post #1 got et by bagoh)

Original Mike said...

"Gotta remember to use "double dumbass on you" at some point."

Life provides ample opportunities for a colorful metaphor.

Quaestor said...

Here it is, the Xerox Altos. This is actually the Altos II, but there's not too much outward difference between the the first and second model.

The notice the orientation of the monitor. Even though the Altos was a computer, a generalized system, Xerox didn't market it as such. Instead they targeted newspapers, magazines and publishing houses. Their sales force pushed it as a kind of typesetting machine. Idiots...

Quaestor said...

Oops, error. The Xerox product was called Alto (from Palo Alto Reseach Center). Altos was an 8086 that shipped with Xenix.

Bob_R said...

@Quaestor - Thanks for the link.

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

I am (barely) old enough to appreciate how magical that lecture must have been.

Bob_R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob_R said...

@bagoh20 - Working technology persists for a long time. My wife was using decks of punch cards to track satellites at NASA Goddard until about 1983 (IIR). Always a huge barrier to fixing something that is working.

mariner said...

He demonstrated how a mouse, which he had invented just four years earlier, could be used to control a computer.

Think about that.

The mouse was invented in 1964. So was hypertext linking.

But we didn't start using them until the 1990s.

mariner said...

Big Mike,
Point of information. There were green screens in 1968 -- character-oriented CRT terminals. I know because I was there! By 1968 punched cards and punched paper tape were obsolete.

That's a point of *mis*information.

Punched cards and paper tape were still in wide use in the late 1970s.

Original Mike said...

Punch cards were the method used to input data to the University of Wisconsin mainframe, available for computer science classes, in 1975.

Original Mike said...

In fact, the damn punch card reader ate my semester project.

Quaestor said...

But we didn't start using them until the 1990s.

Well, some of us started mousing in 1984...

I think the reason these concepts took so long to come to the fruition we all know so well today is the hardware. Engelbart's demo wasn't conducted on a small cheap (i.e. high five figures vs high six) computer. Even though his NLS was easy to use, you'd best have a skilled engineer on hand in case the queue pdumped.

pm317 said...

The Drill SGT said.
---------------
You got it right. Without DARPA's visionary focus, we wouldn't be where we are today. Think ARPANet.

Clyde said...

Thank you, Dr. Engelbart. You're one of the people who made our lives a whole lot better, even if we didn't know it. Rest in peace. You've earned it.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Re: punch cards, I was using them on an IBM 360-65 in 1972, a 370-158VM in 74, and on a CDC 6400 at Berkeley in 75. By 1980, the undergrad CS was done on multiuser BSD UNIX running on DEC PDP 11-70 and VAX 11-780; no more punchcards. (The VAX 780 ran at (roughly) a blistering 1 MIPS (million instructions per second)). I have fond memories of a dual VAX 11-785 named Ernie KoVAX.

Re: Xerox PARC. At Adobe (1994), we said of PARC, "It's not so much a company, as a conspiracy to form new companies." Old Xerox folk would wonder aloud whether or not the toner-heads back east were running PARC that way on purpose, or out of ignorance.

madAsHell said...

We have some real technology nerds here.
It sounds like everyone passed freshman physics, and calculus. I hear comments proclaiming expertise in law, medicine and engineering......and a lot of software types.

How in the hell did we end up here?...commenting on some lawyers blog??

Original Mike said...

"How in the hell did we end up here?...commenting on some lawyers blog??"

She lets us.

YoungHegelian said...

How in the hell did we end up here?...commenting on some lawyers blog??

If somebody else wants us, I'm sure we'll be happy to go dispense our exalted wisdom to them, too.

I just ain't hearing no knocks at the door....

MrCharlie2 said...

"While SRI, PARC, IBM GE and Bell Labs all had a role, it is useful to point out that the glue that pulled the Internet, GPS, and a hundred other things were those evil guys at DoD running (D)ARPA. The NYT's manages to avoid saying ARPA or DARPA."

Yes, definitely.

I had a connection with GE's computing business back then, and strangely enough still do. GE worked closely with Dartmouth in those days (think Basic) and was selling what passed for ineractive computing, and even ran demos with CRT projectors (which were heavy and sort of noisy as I remember.

Xerox was not unique: one of many trying to break the death grip of IBM, the true evil. It took a while longer.

Carl said...

Well, that was way ahead of its time in 1968. In those days even if your job didn't take that long, it had to sit in a queue with lots of others, so from submission to output would usually be hours, at least. A computer was much too expensive to sit around doing nothing until someone asked it a question, unless we're talking about the NSA.

So there'd be no point at all to sitting in front of a computer screen. What could it tell you, on a real-time basis? Bupkis. For the same reason, there wasn't much motivation for anyone to develop fancy input and output devices. Hence the punchcards. Perfectly sensible, easy to use, cheap. Er...except for the dropping of a whole deck and having to restore the order bit. That well and truly sucked.

The thing I remember as funny is that IBM's SP/CMS combo used to use "virtual" card punches and readers to send files between users. So, if I wanted to send a file to Joe consisting of "Hey what's hanging? Want lunch?", I'd have to use my virtual "punch" to send it to his virtual "reader." It's interesting that they thought they had to stick with the paradigm, even the language, to make it easier to use, even though what was really going on had no relationship to it.

I'm reminded of some of the challenges programmers have today, when they try to adapt desktop programs to the tablet or phone, and have to cope with the fact that there is no mouse. Only gradually are we starting to see people deploy and get used to a user interface that employs more general touching motions and gestures. Meanwhile the desktop people are struggling with whether to backport this to the desktop -- people don't seem real cool with fondling their monitor, even if it is 18 inches and hard -- or cope with maintaining diverging OS models.

Original Mike said...

"Meanwhile the desktop people are struggling with whether to backport this to the desktop -- people don't seem real cool with fondling their monitor..."

It's idiotic. 8 hours of that and my arms would fall off.

Kirk Parker said...

mariner,

"The mouse was invented in 1964. So was hypertext linking."

I thought Vannaver Bush invented hypertext (or at least conceptualized it) way back before 1950.

Freeman Hunt said...

I didn't realize some of those innovations had been around for so long. I remember when we got Geoworks, our family's first foray into computing without using the command line; it seemed so strange. "Why should I open this big menu thing when I can just tell DOS which program I want to run?"

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