The Mother of All Demos

I am shocked whenever I meet someone with a Computer Science or Computer Engineering degree who has not seen or at least heard of Douglas Engelbart’s “Mother of All Demos”.  This is where it all came from. What to do I mean by all? Everything about how we interact with computers today can be seen in Engelbart’s demo. Am I exaggerating? No!

Look at this list Herb Sutter has compiled of things first demonstrated by Engelbart:

  • The personal computer for dedicated individual use all day long.
  • The mouse.
  • Internetworks.
  • Network service discovery.
  • Live collaboration and desktop/app sharing.
  • Hierarchical structure within a file system and within a document.
  • Cut/copy/paste, with drag-and-drop.
  • Paper metaphor for word processing.
  • Advanced pattern search and macro search.
  • Keyword search and multiple weighted keyword search.
  • Catalog-based information retrieval.
  • Flexible interactive formatting and line drawing.
  • Hyperlinks within a document and across documents.
  • Tagging graphics, and parts of graphics, as hyperlinks.
  • Shared workgroup document collaboration with annotations etc.
  • Live shared workgroup collaboration with live audio/video teleconference in a window.

Link to the complete video.

It’s also instructive to see the things he demonstrated that did not end up in every day use. Like the chorded control he used in conjunction with the mouse.

Engelbart thought it up, Xerox PARC built it and polished it, and then Apple, Microsoft, Netscape, and Google commercialized it. After you watch this video you’ll end up wondering what took 40 years and whether there has been anything truly invented since then. Kind of depressing. But then hopeful if you think that if such a small team could do so much, why not my team and I?

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2 Comments

  1. [echoing a comment I just added to my own post that you referenced]

    You wrote:

    It’s also instructive to see the things [Engelbart] demonstrated that did not end up in every day use. Like the chorded control he used in conjunction with the mouse.

    Actually, that did end up in everyday use on PCs, Macs, and other popular environments. You’ve probably used it sometime in the last 24 hours.

    Engelbart showed a group of special keys for multi-key “chords”, and the main difference today is that the special keys are so standard that they’ve migrated onto the main keyboard. We do routinely use multi-key combinations (insert your favorite Ctrl-Alt-Del joke here), including in conjunction with a mouse (e.g,. Command-click, Alt-click, Ctrl-Shift-click).

    He demo’d it then, and we use it routinely today. Quite prescient, isn’t it?

  2. [echoing a comment I just added to my own post that you referenced]

    You wrote:

    It’s also instructive to see the things [Engelbart] demonstrated that did not end up in every day use. Like the chorded control he used in conjunction with the mouse.

    Actually, that did end up in everyday use on PCs, Macs, and other popular environments. You’ve probably used it sometime in the last 24 hours.

    Engelbart showed a group of special keys for multi-key “chords”, and the main difference today is that the special keys are so standard that they’ve migrated onto the main keyboard. We do routinely use multi-key combinations (insert your favorite Ctrl-Alt-Del joke here), including in conjunction with a mouse (e.g,. Command-click, Alt-click, Ctrl-Shift-click).

    He demo’d it then, and we use it routinely today. Quite prescient, isn’t it?

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