Douglas C. Engelbart, one of the inventors of the computer mouse and a computer visionary, has died at the age of 88, ABC News has confirmed. Engelbart died on Tuesday evening at his home in Atherton, Calif.
Engelbart, who served as a U.S. Navy electronic radar technician during World War II, began working at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in the late 1950s. It was there that he worked on some of the first graphic user interface computers and the idea of the computer mouse. In 1970 he received a patent for the mouse, which was at the time a thick wooden device with two wheels and three buttons.
“This invention relates to visual display systems, and more particularly, to device for alternating the display at selected locations,” the patent, filed by Engelbart on June 21, 1967, reads. The mouse, of course, wasn’t popularized until Xerox PARC began experimenting with the device and then Apple began to ship the mouse with the Apple’s Lisa in 1983.
Englebart had said that he did not, however, come up with the name “mouse.” When asked in an interview with Stanford about the name in December 1986, Engelbart said, “No one can remember [who came up with the name]. In the lab, the very first one we built had the cord coming out the back. It wasn’t long before we realized that it would get in the way, and then we changed it to the front. But when it was trailing out the back like that, sitting there, just its funny little shape.”
But Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak believes Engelbart’s greatest contributions go way beyond the mouse.
“I have admired him so much. Everything we have in computers can be traced to his thinking,” Wozniak told ABC News on Wednesday afternoon. “To me, he is a god. He gets recognized for the mouse, but he really did an awful lot of incredible stuff for computer interfaces and networking.”
Engelbart worked on the ARPANET, a network of computers that preceded the Internet in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He also worked on the concept of “groupware,” or digital collaboration. In 1968 he was one of the first to demonstrate on-screen video teleconferencing.
“The networking ideas were even more significant than the mouse,” Wozniak said. “He did this way before the Internet. He was thinking about how computers could solve some of the main problems for mankind before many.”
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