50 years on from “The Mother of All Demos”


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the “The Mother of All Demos”, a name retrospectively applied to a landmark computer demonstration presented by Douglas Engelbart in San Francisco on 9 December 1968.

As you can see from the short summary clip above, this first demonstration of the oN-Line System (commonly known as NLS) essentially presented almost all the fundamental elements of modern personal computing: windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing, the computer mouse, word processing, dynamic file linking, revision control, and a collaborative real-time editor (i.e. collaborative work); Engelbart’s presentation was the first to publicly demonstrate all of these elements in a single system. Interestingly, the immediate impact on the field was perceived to be limited:

Everybody was blown away and thought it was absolutely fantastic and nothing else happened. There was almost no further impact. People thought it was too far out and they were still working on their physical teletypes, hadn’t even migrated to glass teletypes yet. So it sparked interest in a small vigorous research community but it didn’t have impact on the computer field as a whole.
 
Andy van Dam, keynote at Hypertext 2019 conference: Reflections on a Half-Century of Hypertext

Nevertheless, the demonstration was highly influential in the longer term, and spawned similar projects at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s, while the underlying technologies influenced the development of both the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows GUI operating systems in the 1980s and 1990s.

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