Doug Engelbart: A Tribute

Written by Larry Press

A tribute to computer pioneer, deep thinker and the inventor of the mouse, Doug Engelbart. — Doug Engelbart died recently. You probably know him as the inventor of the mouse, which he was, but that was a small part of his contribution.

The mouse was just the pointing device he had to invent in order to realize his vision of the computer as a tool to augment the intelligence of individuals and groups. In those days, we used light pens for pointing, but they were inaccurate and awkward — so Doug invented the mouse after experimenting with several pointing devices, including one controlled by the user’s knee under a desk.

I had the privilege of visiting Doug’s lab when I was a graduate student working on interactive data mining. Two researchers there — Geofery Ball and David Hall — were already using Doug’s equipment for data analysis.

I ran into Doug several times in later year. He always was open, idealistic, optimistic and far ahead of his time.

He chose his life’s work thoughtfully.

I wrote a tribute post for Doug mentioning some of what he invented. There was his 1968 demonstration, The Demo, in which he astounded an audience of 1,000 computer scientists by showing them prototypes of much of what we use today. Specifically, Doug’s contribution to the mouse, hyperlinks, video conferencing, the WYSIWYG word processor, the multi-window user interface, shared documents, shared database, documents with images & text, keyword search, instant messaging, synchronous collaboration, asynchronous collaboration — well, they were all amazing. Here is a link to “Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework”, published in 1962. Note the dates of all the works in the reference section. Wow.

Great engineers and scientists ask great questions. Doug opened The Demo with the following question, which had guided his work:


Image credit: Larry Press

I am not alone in this tribute to Doug Engelbart. You can also read tributes by John Markoff of the New York Times, Robert Cringley, and Om Malik and Mathew Ingram. Search for #engelbart or #DougEngelbart on Twitter and you will find many more.

Have you seen other tributes to Doug? Have you an anecdote or something else you could share? Let me know in an email or in a comment on this post.

Based in Los Angeles, Larry Press is a founding senior editor covering tech here at He’s also a professor of information systems at California State University at Dominguez Hills. Check his Google+ profile — he’s at +Larry Press — or email him at