Echoes From the Past, The Mother of All Demos – Douglas Engelbart (1968)

We tend to envisage modern desktops with keyboards and mice as something that appeared in the early 1980’s. Microsoft did a great job of commoditizing this for the masses, but they did of course get the idea (or copied the idea, depending on your point of view) from a Xerox research project that never quite made off the ground.  Anything prior to the arrival of Windows stirs up visions of large mechanical devices with green text consoles and paper punch cards for input/output.

The reality is that the embryonic beginnings of the current desktop stretch back closer to 50 years ago, even before the Xerox project. I wasn’t aware of this until I heard about a 1960’s demo on a recent podcast (thanks Speaking in Tech).  The video below is of Douglas Engelbart, who unfortunately passed away in recent weeks.  This is probably the first ever large scale demo of this kind of technology. In this video, Douglas cuts a ghostly figure as he is superimposed on the film along side the desktop he is operating.  Working as a Sales Engineer, I do a lot of demos.. you always like to feel like you’re on the cutting edge and showing your customer something new, but I think this video shows that although the technology changes a lot of what drives demos is fundamentally the same.  Great demo from who should be considered both Jobbs’ and Gates’ predecessor.

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