Doug Engelbart, who was instrumental in the invention or development of several IT standards that have withstood the test of time—the computer mouse, email and word processing software—died July 3. He was 88.
The Computer History Museum, where Engelbart had been a fellow since 2005, reported his death to the Associated Press. The Mountain View, Calif., institution had been notified in an email from his daughter, Christina. The cause of his death wasn’t specified.
Englebart, who worked for SRI International (formerly known at Stanford Research Institute) and the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), is most well known as the inventor of the mouse, which he developed in the late 1960s and patented in 1970.
As luck would have it, however, Englebart didn’t reap many of the financial benefits of inventing the little device that still helps people operate millions of desktop and laptop computers.
The Mouse: Too Far Ahead of Its Time
Turns out that Engelbart’s invention was too far ahead of its time; the mouse patent had a 17-year life span, and in 1987 the technology fell into the public domain, meaning Engelbart couldn’t collect royalties on the mouse when it was in its widest use.
With the launch of its Macintosh computer in 1984, Apple supplied the world’s first commercially available mouse. All the other computer makers followed suit; since then, at least 1 billion “mice” have been manufactured and sold.
Englebart truly was a man of far-reaching vision when it came to the IT world. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, when mainframes took up entire rooms and were fed data on punch cards, Englebart envisioned the world we have today in which people use computers to share ideas about solving problems.
He often said his work was all about “augmenting human intellect,” but it ultimately was about making computers user-friendly.
A True Pioneer in Several IT Sectors
“Doug pioneered network computing technologies when it was not popular to do so in the ’60s and ’70s,” said Scott McNealy, co-founder and former CEO and president of Sun Microsystems.
“His vision, courage and tenacity to open, nonproprietary interfaces continues to contribute to every man, woman and child having access to the collective wisdom of the planet that resides on the network,” McNealy said.
Engelbart had 20 lifetime patents. Some of them influenced electronic mail, computer interface windows, networking and the Internet itself. Other patents are credited with the creation of collaborative hypertext and community networking systems, which have launched an entire wing of the IT business.
Demonstrated the First Video Conference
His groundbreaking research in 1968 produced the first fully integrated two-way computer and video teleconference, and led to elaborate communication systems that were the precursor to the modern Internet.
He received a degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University in 1955 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 1994.
In 1997, Engelbart was named the winner of the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize—the world’s largest cash prize for IT work. The prestigious award is administered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was made following a year-long review by three expert panels from a range of disciplines in science, medicine and engineering.