Computer mouse

Radar technician invents a box with a tail

Doug Engelbart (Portland, Oregon, January 30, 1925)

He resembles Mister Q, James Bond's technical right-hand man, like two drops of water. He's wealthy, but certainly not as rich as Bill Gates, the boss of Microsoft, or all those new-rich Silicon Valley gentlemen. Yet he made them rich.

For example, Doug Engelbart is the inventor of Windows, the window system on our computer screen. Or hypertext, the technique that allows you to jump from one document to another when you click on a word.

Or video conferencing where two groups of people can hold discussions with each other via the computer. But Engelbart is also the inventor of the computer mouse, the instrument that really made the PC suitable for the living room.

Doug Engelbart Douglas, abbreviated Doug, Engelbart was born in 1925 from a pioneer family on the American west coast. His father had a small shop where he sold and repaired radios. The Great Depression almost left him penniless.

He died in 1934, and nine-year-old Doug moved to his grandmother's small farm. "Growing up without a father, I felt like I was different," he would later say. “Other people knew what they were doing, they were guided, and they had the money to pursue their goals.

I walked around a bit. I never thought I would become like the others.

I remember once we sat in a row at school and I was the only one with old, broken shoes. My only pair of shoes. Only on my shoes were splashes of dried milk and cow dung. I had no idea what was to become of me.'
From 1944 to 1946 he served in the Navy in the Philippines. He worked there as a radar technician and read a book: How should I make something of my life? He looked for a job as an electrical engineer, but he was not happy. He met a woman and got engaged.

One night, around Christmas, he drove home in his car, stopped at the side of the road, and said to himself, "I have no purpose in life." There, then, on the spot, he got the genius Doug Engelbarts patent application 1967 prompting to transfer his radar knowledge to a computer screen.

At that time, in the fifties of the last century, computers were just big calculators, it was all about numbers. And only programmers could work on it. Doug Engelbart wondered what it would be like if you worked with different symbols on the screen.

And that went. If you had those symbols on your screen, what was the fastest way to walk from point X to point Y? In 1957, the Russians sent their Sputnik into space. The Americans were beaten.
Engelbart suddenly received tons of money from NASA to test his crazy ideas. The planimeter, one of those devices that you can slide over a map and which then calculates the area, or indicates the distance traveled on a map, that planimeter gave him an idea.

Doug had a box constructed with a wheel that moved horizontally and a wheel that moved vertically. He converted the movement of the wheels to the screen and so you could move from point X to point Y very precisely and very quickly.

The connection wire was initially at the back of the box, which made it look very much like a mouse. No one, including Engelbart, remembers who came up with the idea of calling it a mouse. It just looked like this. And everyone called it that. That was in 1966.

It wasn't until 1984 that Apple would popularize the mouse. Engelbart had been far too early with his ideas. Some patents belonged to the institutions he had worked for, others had expired before they were commercialized.

The old boss, our computer's Mister Q, lives today with his wife of over forty years and two cats on San Francisco Bay. Not so far from his four children and eight grandchildren.

His daughter Christina is one of the great computer specialists of the United States. And he has his own, almost Buddhist philosophy about property: 'A man's wealth,' he says, 'must be measured by what he can deny himself.'

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