American inventor and visionary Doug Engelbart, the father of the computer mouse, died Wednesday morning at the age of 88, as announced by the Computer History Museum.
Engelbart had been a fellow at the museum in Mountain View, California, since 2005. On Wednesday, the museum was notified of his death in an email from his daughter and biographer, Christina.
Technologies like videoconferencing, bitmapped displays, real-time text editing, hypertext that prefigured the World Wide Web, and, of course, the mouse that we still use today were shown at a computer conference in San Francisco, back in 1968 by Engelbart.
This demo famously came to be known as 'the mother of all demos'. One of the biggest advances mentioned during the demo was the mouse. At that time, the mouse was just a wooden shell covering two metal wheels: an 'X-Y position indicator for a display system.' Engelbart developed it in the 1960s and patented in 1970.
The idea of controlling the inside of a computer with an object located outside the system was a revolutionary idea at that time. He conceived the invention so early that he and his colleagues could not benefit much from it. The mouse became commercially available from 1984 onwards. The mouse was tied with the release of Apple's then-revolutionary Macintosh.
His patent on the mouse expired in 1987, 17 years after its invention, and entered the public domain that prevented Egelbart from collecting royalties.
Engelbart said his work was all about "augmenting human intellect" - which means, to increase the capability of a man to approach a complex problem situation and to derive solutions to problems.
Engelbart "brought tremendous value to society", said Curtis R Carlson, the CEO of SRI International. "We will miss his genius, warmth and charm. Doug's legacy is immense. Anyone in the world who uses a mouse or enjoys the productive benefits of a personal computer is indebted to him."
Although the computer mouse still remains prevalent, its usage is declining as people are increasingly taking control of smartphones and tablets with just a swipe of their finger across a display screen.
Douglas Carl Engelbart was born on 30 January, 1925. He grew up on a small farm near Portland, Oregon. He studied electrical engineering at Oregon State University, taking two years off during the second world war to serve as a Navy electronics and radar technician in the Philippines, as reported by The Guardian.
After the war, Engelbart worked as an electrical engineer for NASA's predecessor, NACA, at its Ames Laboratory. Engelbart left Ames to pursue a PhD in electrical engineering at University of California, Berkeley.
He earned his degree in 1955 and left for a research position at Stanford Research Institute, now SRI International.
He worked in his own lab, the Augmentation Research Centre, which helped develop ARPANet, the government research network that led to the development of the internet.
In 1990, Engelbart founded the Bootstrap Institute, which researches ways to advance collaboration on complex problems, as he was committed to augment human intellect.
Engelbart played down the importance of his inventions. "Many of those firsts came right out of the staff's innovations - even had to be explained to me before I could understand them," he said in a biography written by his daughter. "They deserve more recognition."
In 1997, Engelbart was rewarded with the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT prize as an American inventor. Three years later, President Bill Clinton bestowed him with the National Medal of Technology "for creating the foundations of personal computing".