Doug Engelbart, December 1968.

Doug Engelbart, December 1968.


Engelbart's Unfinished Revolution

A Symposium at Stanford University

December 9, 1998

Try to imagine "personal" computing without the following::

  • The mouse and pointer cursor
  • Display editing
  • Outline processing
  • Multiple remote online users of a networked processor
  • "Linking" and in-file object addressing
  • Multiple windows
  • Hypermedia
  • Context-sensitive help

These features, which we take for granted in 1998, were unheard of before Doug Engelbart's inquiries into "Augmented Human Intellect" led to a revolutionary vision of the computer, a vision which was revealed to the computer world on December 9, 1968 ...

On that day Doug Engelbart and a small team of researchers from the Stanford Research Institute stunned the computing world with an extraordinary demonstration at a San Francisco computer conference. They debuted: the computer mouse, graphical user interface, display editing and integrated text and graphics, hyper-documents, and two-way video-conferencing with shared workspaces. These concepts and technologies were to become the cornerstones of modern interactive computing

On December 9th, 1998 Stanford University Libraries and the Institute for the Future presented a day-long, public symposium that brought together Engelbart and members of his historic team, along with other computer visionaries, to consider the impact of Engelbart's work on the last three decades of the computer revolution, to explore the challenges facing us today, and to speculate about the next three decades.

That landmark 1968 demonstration took place at the American Federation of Information Processing Societies' Fall Joint Computer Conference. At a time when computers were little more than huge number-crunchers, Engelbart and his team's introduction of their two-way interactive system, called NLS (for oN Line System) was a shock.

Today the mouse, graphical user interface, hyper-documents, display editing and integrated text and graphics are taken for granted. Other features of NLS, such two-way video-conferencing with shared workspaces, remain more vision than reality even today. And some of NLS' most important elements, such as the concept of bootstrapping, remain so novel that they are all but unknown to the current generation of systems designers.

NLS' 1968 demo was a watershed that fundamentally changed the trajectory of the computing revolution, contributing not only ideas, but also many of the people who would later build the systems we would use today. Alumni of the NLS project (and its successor, the Augment project) include many of the most influential figures in Silicon Valley (and elsewhere). Others credit Doug's work in general, and the 1968 demo in particular with influencing their design philosophies. As personal computing pioneer and visionary Alan Kay once observed, "I don't know what Silicon Valley will do when it runs out of Doug's ideas."

The first mouse

The first mouse