Engelbart, Douglas

Engelbart, Douglas
born Jan. 30, 1925, near Portland, Ore., U.S.

U.S. computer scientist.

He received a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. In the 1960s he set up the Augmentation Research Center at the Stanford Research Institute in Utah. He invented hypertext, the multiwindow display, the mouse, and groupware. His demonstration of these capabilities in San Francisco in 1968 started the process of development that led to the Microsoft Windows operating system. Engelbart's group at SRI was one of the original four members of the ARPANET, precursor of the Internet. After his retirement, he led the Bootstrap Institute, researching ways to support cooperative work by computers. In 1997 he received the Turing Award.

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▪ American inventor
born Jan. 30, 1925, near Portland, Oregon, U.S.

      American inventor whose work beginning in the 1950s led to his patent for the computer mouse, the development of the basic graphical user interface, and groupware.

      Engelbart grew up on a farm near Portland. Following two years of enlisted service as a radar technician for the U.S. Navy in World War II, he completed his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at Oregon State University in 1948. He soon became dissatisfied with his electrical engineering job at the Ames Research Center, located in Moffett Field, California, and in December 1950 had the inspiration that would drive the rest of his professional life.

      Engelbart's dream was to use computers to connect individuals in a network that would allow them to share and update information in “real time.” He combined this idea of collaborative software, or groupware, with his experience interpreting radar displays and with ideas he gleaned from an Atlantic Monthly article by Vannevar Bush (Bush, Vannevar), “As We May Think,” to envision networked computers employing a graphical user interface. After receiving a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley in 1955, he stayed on as an acting assistant professor for a year before accepting a position with the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Stanford, California.

 In 1963 Engelbart was given funding by SRI to start his own research laboratory, the Augmentation Research Center, where he worked on inventing and perfecting various devices—such as the computer mouse (see the photograph—>), the multiple window display, and hypermedia (the linking of texts, images, video, and sound files within a single document)—for inputting, manipulating, and displaying data. Together with a colleague at SRI, William English, he eventually perfected a variety of input devices—including joysticks, light pens, and track balls—that are now common. Prior to Engelbart's inventions, laborious and error-prone keypunch cards or manually set electronic switches were necessary to control computers, and data had to be printed before it could be viewed. His work made it possible for ordinary people to use computers.

 Early in 1967 Engelbart's laboratory became the second site on the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), the primary precursor to the Internet. On December 9, 1968, at a computer conference in San Francisco, Engelbart demonstrated a working real-time collaborative computer system known as NLS (oNLine System). Using NLS, he and English (back at Stanford) worked on a shared document in one window (using keyboard and mouse input devices) while at the same time conducting the world's first public computer video conference in another window (see the photograph—>). Engelbart continued his research, building increasingly sophisticated input and display devices and improving the graphical user interface, but because of budget cuts at SRI most of his research staff migrated to other institutions such as Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center in Palo Alto, California.

      In 1977 SRI sold Engelbart's NLS groupware system to Tymshare, Incorporated, a telephone networking company that renamed it Augment and sought to make it into a commercially viable office automation system. As the last remaining member of his research laboratory, and with SRI showing no further interest in his work, Engelbart joined Tymshare. In 1984 Tymshare was acquired by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, where Engelbart worked on information systems. In 1989 he founded the Bootstrap Institute, a research and consulting firm. Over the following decade he finally began to receive recognition for his innovations, including the 1997 Turing Award, a major achievement in computer science.

Mark Hall

Additional Reading
Douglas C. Engelbart, “A Conceptual Framework for the Augmentation of Man's Intellect” and “Toward High-Performance Knowledge Workers,” in Irene Greif (ed.), Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: A Book of Readings (1988), give clear expositions of Engelbart's ideas on computers and their use.

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Universalium. 2010.

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