The Father of Modern PC Interface

The Father of Modern PC Interface

He was called “The father of modern PC Interface” owing to his achievements in streamlining human interaction with computer systems. He engineered mouse and integrated it with a graphical user interface 15 years before the first Macintosh OS was developed. He is credited for developing number of devices which ended the monopoly of computer geeks and bringing the computers into layman’s reach, computer mouse being the most prominent of all. On 2nd July, 2013, he died. Yes, one of the greatest computer scientist Doug Engelbart.


In the 1950’s when computers were a size of the room and processing was so slow that one could enjoy a complete game of tennis before getting an answer, Engelbart envisaged the idea of making computer interaction simple for a layman. At that it was considered cumbersome even for experts to interact with computers with punch card processing techniques.


Engelbart started research on his idea at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in early 60’s where he was the head of the team researching on his idea which was called the “Vision of the information age”. For the next eight years no significant advancements could be made in this regard when in November,1968 he finally managed to develop something substantial. He presented his idea in a conference held at San Francisco which was named as “The mother of all demos”.


In his presentation, he presented several ideas related to human-computer interaction including the idea of video conferencing
which he named online systems. He presented the idea of individual windows for each application running on system, the idea of icons used for opening an application was also presented. Menu’s which are located on top of any applications were introduced in this
presentation. In short most of the modern aspects of computer systems in the form of graphical user interface were introduced in that


The very next year, Engelbart started working on a device with which a layman can interact with a computer. He started researching on several ideas including a joystick, a foot controlled device, tracking ball and a stick controlled pointing device before deciding on a device which worked in the principal of X-Y Coordinates. It can be considered as the first mouse of computing history, the device consisted of a wooden box placed on two wheels, one for the x-coordinate the other for the y-coordinate. A wire was used to connect the front end of the box to computer and the first mouse of the computing history was manufactured.


15 Years after that, Steve Jobs, the founder and technology giant of “Apple Systems” developed “Macintosh OS” and develop first
commercial mouse. SRI of Engelbart sold the rights of mouse to Macintosh for 40,000 US Dollars. Out of this amount, only 10,000 US
dollars was paid to Engelbart.


Ebgelbart was a son of radio shop owner who died when Engelbart was nine. Engelbart was born on 30TH January, 1925. His complete name was Douglas Carl Engelbart who was a student of Electrical Engineering at Oregon State University when he had to leave his studies in order to take part in world war two as a radar and naval electronics equipment technician. After the war he worked as an Electrical Engineer at Ames Research Center as a research on wind tunnel program. He obtained his doctorate in electrical engineering in 1950s from University of California, Berkley. He served as an assistant professor In the same institute before he left to in 1959 Stanford where he developed a research center named as “Augmented Research Center”.


Engelbart was awarded with several accolades in recognition of his excellent work in the field of computing including the Turing award
(Nobel Prize for computing) in 1997, Lemelson MIT prize of worth 500,000 US Dollars, and National Medal of Technology at the hands of the then US President Bill gates in 2000. The very next year, he was awarded the Lovelace Medal by british computer society in 2001.


The favor done by Engelbart to humanity in general and computing in particular is enormous. He made it literally possible for us to get any information at a mouse click. Her daughter revealed that his father died in his home town which is in California in a peaceful manner during his sleep at night on 2nd july, 2013.


Imagine what would have happened to such a person had he been living in our country. Either he would have been laying alone in a charity  hospital seeking financial support for his treatment from government organizations or he would have been compelled to sell all his awards and medals in order to make both his ends meet.

Usman Malik

A blogger for The News/Geo blogs

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