Engelbart, Douglas C.

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Born January 30, 1925.

In the late 1940s, Douglas Engelbart was stationed in the Philippines when he read Vannevar Bush's "As We May Think" in a Red Cross library. He became an early believer in Bush's idea of a machine that would aid human cognition. Later, he worked at Ames aeronautical lab, and developed the idea that would form the basis of today's computer interfaces.

In the early 1960s, Engelbart began the Augmentation Research Centre (ARC), a development environment at the Stanford Research Institute. Here, he and his colleagues (William K. English and John F. Rulifson) created the On-Line System (NLS), the world's first implementation of what was to be called hypertext. Yet this was only a small part of what ARC was about. As he states in "Working Together," Engelbart was particularity concerned with "asynchronous collaboration among teams distributed geographically" (245). This endeavour is part of the study of Computer Supported Co-operative Work (CSCW); software which supports this goal is often called groupware.

"Augmentation not automation" was the slogan, the goal being the enhancement of human abilities through computer technology. The key tools that NLS provided were:

outline editors for idea development hypertext linking tele-conferencing word processing e-mail user configurability and programmability

The development of these required the creation of:

the mouse pointing device for on-screen selection a one-hand chording device for keyboard entry a full windowing software environment on-line help systems the concept of consistency in user interfaces

Itemizing these accomplishments using today's terminology emphasizes their detachment from one another. However, NLS was an integrated environment for natural idea processing. The emphasis was on a visual environment--a revolutionary idea at a time when most people (even programmers) had no direct contact with a computer. Input was by punched cards and output by paper tape.

Engelbart's work directly influenced the research at Xerox's PARC, which in turn was the inspiration for Apple Computers. Ted Nelson cites him as a major influence. In 1991, Engelbart and his colleagues were given the ACM Software System Award for their work on NLS.

Douglas Engelbart's patent for the mouse is only a representation of his pioneering working designing modern interactive computer environments. Engelbart was born and grew up near Portland, Oregon. He served in the Navy as an electronics technician during World War II, and received his B.S. from Oregon State University. After working for NASA's Ames Research Laboratory, he received a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. He then joined the Stanford Research Institute (SRI), earning a number of patents related to computer components.

A main concern for Engelbert was how the computer could be used as a useful tool in tomorrow's office. While at SRI, he developed a hypermedia groupware system called NLS (oN-Line System). NLS utilized two-dimensional computerized text editing, and the mouse, used to position a pointer into text, was a critical component. During a 1968 demonstration, Engelbart first introduced NLS--this was the world debut of the mouse, hypermedia, and on-screen video teleconferencing. His project became the second host on Arpanet, predecessor of the Internet.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Engelbart was a Senior Scientist at Tymshare, Inc., later acquired by McDonnell-Douglas. In 1989, he founded The Bootstrap Institute, which promotes the development of collective IQ through worldwide computer networks.

From the guide to the Engelbart, Douglas C. Papers, 1953-1998, (Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Engelbart, Douglas C. Papers, 1953-1998 Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
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associatedWith Fein, Louis. person
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associatedWith Irby, Charles H. person
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Place Name Admin Code Country
Computer engineering


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