In December 1968, however, he set the computing world on fire with a remarkable demonstration before more than a thousand of the world’s leading computer scientists at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, one of a series of national conferences in the computer field that had been held since the early 1950s. Dr. Engelbart was developing a raft of revolutionary interactive computer technologies and chose the conference as the proper moment to unveil them.
For the event, he sat on stage in front of a mouse, a keyboard and other controls and projected the computer display onto a 22-foot-high video screen behind him. In little more than an hour, he showed how a networked, interactive computing system would allow information to be shared rapidly among collaborating scientists. He demonstrated how a mouse, which he invented just four years earlier, could be used to control a computer. He demonstrated text editing, video conferencing, hypertext and windowing.
In contrast to the mainframes then in use, a computerized system Dr. Engelbart created, called the oNLine System, or NLS, allowed researchers to share information seamlessly and to create and retrieve documents in the form of a structured electronic library.
The conference attendees were awe-struck. In one presentation, Dr. Engelbart demonstrated the power and the potential of the computer in the information age. The technology would eventually be refined at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Apple and Microsoft would transform it for commercial use in the 1980s and change the course of modern life.
Years later, people in Silicon Valley still referred to the presentation as “the mother of all demos.” It took until the late 1980s for the mouse to become the standard way to control a desktop computer.
The idea for the mouse — a pointing device that would roll on a desk — occurred to Dr. Engelbart in 1964 while he was attending a computer graphics conference. He was musing about how to move a cursor on a computer display.
When he returned to work, he gave a copy of a sketch to William English, a collaborator and mechanical engineer at SRI, who, with the aid of a draftsman, fashioned a pine case to hold the mechanical contents.
Early versions of the mouse had three buttons, because that was all the case could accommodate, even though Dr. Engelbart felt that as many as 10 buttons would be more useful. Two decades later, when Steve Jobs added the mouse to his Macintosh computer, he decided that a single button was appropriate. The Macintosh designers believed in radical simplicity, and Mr. Jobs argued that with a single button it was impossible to push the wrong one.
(When and under what circumstances the term “the mouse” arose is hard to pin down, but one hardware designer, Roger Bates, has contended that it happened under Mr. English’s watch. Mr. Bates was a college sophomore and Mr. English was his mentor at the time. Mr. Bates said the name was a logical extension of the term then used for the cursor on a screen: CAT. Mr. Bates did not remember what CAT stood for, but it seemed to all that the cursor was chasing their tailed desktop device.)