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Computer mouse inventor Douglas Engelbart dies

Photo provided by CNN/WarmMe
Thursday, July 4, 2013 - 7:00pm

Douglas Engelbart, whose invention of the mouse transformed the way people interact with computers, has died.

Engelbart died Tuesday night at his home in Atherton, California, SRI International -- the research institute where he once worked -- said in a statement. He was 88.

"Doug's legacy is immense --- anyone in the world who uses a mouse or enjoys the productive benefits of a personal computer is indebted to him," Curtis R. Carlson, SRI's president and CEO, said in a written statement.

Decades ago, Engelbart came up with the idea we now know as a mouse.

His first prototype, which featured a carved out wooden block, wheels and a tiny red button, looks quite different from the sleek plastic designs now seen in homes and offices around the world.

A radar technician during World War II, Engelbart worked at the Stanford Research Institute during the 1960s. It was there that a vision of people sitting in front of a video screen, interacting with a computer, came to him.

"I knew enough engineering and had enough experience as a radar person to know that if a computer can punch cards or print paper, it can draw anything you want on a screen," he told CNN in 1997 after receiving a $500,000 prize for American innovation.

Engelbart invented and patented what he called the "x-y position indicator," receiving a $10,000 check for the invention. He told CNN he couldn't recall who on his team had decided to call it a mouse.

At the time, it wasn't easy to convince fellow scientists to follow his vision, Engelbart said. But he persisted.

Later, he went on to found the Doug Engelbart Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to boosting the collective ability to solve complex, urgent problems on a global scale.

"Sometimes I reflect on how naive somebody has to be in order to get visions -- and plug away at them -- that ultimately proceed, and how many other people with visions that are as naive just fall off the cliff," Engelbart told CNN in 1997.

In addition to the computer mouse, Engelbart's work at SRI from 1957 to 1977 helped develop tech innovations such as display editing, online processing, linking and in-file object addressing, use of multiple windows, hypermedia, and context-sensitive help, the institute said.

"Doug was a giant who made the world a much better place and who deeply touched those of us who knew him," Carlson said. "SRI was very privileged and honored to have him as one of our 'family.' He brought tremendous value to society. We will miss his genius, warmth and charm."

Engelbart is survived by his wife and four children.  

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