Leistungen // Laterales Management

who was douglas c. engelbart?

There are few people who have played a vital role in shaping digitalisation. The obvious ones are Turing, von Neumann and Wozniak, but there are also heroes, inventors and geniuses who are virtually unknown.

One of them was described by Martin Burckhardt of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 2016. Above all, he was a key player in facilitating the use of computers for non-technical people; he invented the mouse. Legend has it that the unknown Engelbart pretty theoretically explained all the major additional inventions needed for the mass use of computers at a presentation to 1,000 people in San Francisco on 9 December 1968. An author, who was present, allegedly said that it would be the next big thing after LSD if it came true. Could it have been Timothy Leary?

The PC pioneer

In his 90-minute demonstration, Engelbart not only presented the first computer mouse (at the time nobody even knew that this would be its name), but also a hypertext editor, which, in addition to a graphic interface with various views, allowed people to work collaboratively on documents. These inventions were followed by emails with linking capabilities, graphing plots, expandable and compressible views, key word searches and macros, a meta-programming language, finally an online knowledge repository, which served as Wiki and could be edited in real time from various places. On a ten-metre wide video projection screen, the audience could follow how a member of staff (who communicated with Engelbart via a headset and whose face appeared on the screen) worked with Engelbart to edit the data at a distance of fifty kilometres in Menlo Park.

Earning real money from Engelbart’s ideas

Engelbart had received research funding from the US army and was able to implement many of his ideas in the early 1960s. In 1977, Stanford University sold his institute to private investors, who were then able to earn real money from Engelbart’s ideas: Xerox, Apple and Microsoft.