The Mother of All Demos

Ars Technica has an new article (that Slashdot seemed to miss) titled A History of the GUI. The first couple of pages of the article are great, but unfortunately it soon degenerates into screenshots of various GUIs that were introduced in the late 1980s.

However, it does talk for nearly a full page about Doug Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos, given in 1968. As befits its name, Engelbart’s demo is one of the most important events to ever happen in the history of computing. It not only featured the first demonstration of the mouse, but also …

featured hypertext linking, full-screen document editing, context-sensitive help, networked document collaboration, e-mail, instant messenging, even video conferencing!

Hypertext linking and networked document collaboration guys, in 1968. We still don’t have a decent networked document collaboration system today, bar wikis (which aren’t real-time), and SubEthaEdit (which is great, but is limited to plaintext, and only works on the Mac). Engelbart was doing stuff 37 years ago that we still haven’t managed to conquer today.

Anyway, to get to the point of this post, I really encourage you to check out the following two video recordings if you can make time for them — they’ve been lovingly digitized and preserved so that we can view them so many, many years later:

They’re absolutely amazing. So damn amazing, this will probably be the one and only time I’ll tell you to download and install RealPlayer just so you can view Doug’s 1968 demo. You can feel history in the making as you watch the videos, I kid you not. To some extent, I almost despise Kernighan and Ritchie for spawning a culture and mindset that ultimately won, despite being more mediocre. Where would we be today if the world had embraced Smalltalk instead? Ah, time to stop being sentimental and crank out more C code, so I don’t look like such a starry-eyed kid again …

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