The Mother of All Demos Revolutionized Computing Interfaces in 1968 [Video]

By Wesley Fenlon

Doug Engelbart shows off teleconferencing and the computer mouse almost a decade before the PC market came to life.

When we think of the history of modern computing, the story usually begins in the late 1970s. Apple released the enormously popular Apple II in 1977, and the 1980s saw graphical user interfaces rise to popularity in a battle between Mac OS and Microsoft Windows. It's common knowledge that Xerox was ahead of the curve in implementing a GUI and a computer mouse in the early 80s, but Apple made them popular with the Macintosh. Those elements of computing have been around far longer than Apple or Xerox PCs, however: computing pioneer Doug Engelbart was showing them off in 1968.

Engelbart demonstrated an early computer mouse, word processing, hypertext and video conferencing back when computers still used punch cards for controlling data in a presentation that's come to be known as The Mother of All Demos. It's an amazing slice of computer history that gives insight into technology we still use today. About 26 minutes into the hour and 15 minutes presentation, Engelbart suddenly remarks "I don't know why we call it a started that way and we never did change it."

While Engelbart's demonstration mostly covers inputting information with a keyboard and mouse, it features some crazy ahead of the curve functionality--sharing data between computer terminals and participating in remote collaboration. Remember how convenient and amazing Google Docs still seems today? It wasn't quite as pretty in 1968 as it is today, but Engelbart and his team at Stanford were video conferencing and collaborating over forty years ago.

The Mother of All Demos is worth a watch, even if you skip around. Make sure to check out the mouse at 26 minutes and teleconferencing starting around the 56 minute mark.