Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Great 1968 Computer Demo

Yes, 1968.

1968 computer demo
I've been reading John Markoff's new book, What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry. He describes how Doug Engelbart, at a computer conference in 1968, gave the first public demonstration of the mouse. Interactive text editing. Copy-and-paste. Hyperlinks. Graphical hyperlinks. Multiple windows. E-mail. Video conferencing. And many other features of personal computing which we today take for granted.

But features, all of them, which must have struck his audience in 1968 as if a UFO had just come down and landed right in front of them.

1968 computer demo
I mean, those were the days of freakin' punch cards and key punch machines— which I damn well remember still using when I first entered the world of computers in 1979!

Anyhow. I looked around, and found that Engelbart's 1968 "mother of all demos" is available online. It's in streaming Real video, divided up into 35 chunks. (Boy, am I glad I recently got DSL!) And it's utterly fascinating.

You can watch the pieces that interest you. Or this link will enable your Real Player automatically to load the pieces in sequence, one after another. The demo has something of the atmosphere of an old science-fiction movie. (Dean Esmay, whose interest I've piqued, compares it to a "Kubrick film.") Only it ain't science fiction. It actually happened, back in December 1968.

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