Why was such a brilliant visionary exiled? The answer is clear after talking with friends, family and colleagues. While they universally agree that Engelbart is extremely gentle and kind, they also describe him as "single-minded," "bullheaded," and, at times, a "control freak." Explains Andy van Dam, who credits Engelbart with inspiring his pioneering work in hypermedia, the use of graphics and text on computers, "He's not hostile, but he's going to do it his way. This is the hallmark of a visionary - they have this huge internal compass and they're going to sail in that direction, the weather be damned."
Futurist Saffo adds: "It's not so much that people overlooked Doug but that they studiously tried to ignore him because his ideas made them uncomfortable."
Engelbart's unwillingness to bend was in evidence when he met Steve Jobs for the first time in the early 1980s. It was 15 years since Engelbart had invented the computer mouse and other critical components for the personal computer, and Jobs was busy integrating them into his Macintosh.
"It's not so much that people overlooked Doug but that they studiously tried to ignore him because his ideas made them uncomfortable."
Institute for the Future
Apple Computer Inc.'s hot-shot founder touted the Macintosh's capabilities to Engelbart. But instead of applauding Jobs, who was delivering to the masses Engelbart's new way to work, the father of personal computing was annoyed. In his opinion, Jobs had missed the most important piece of his vision: networking. Engelbart's 1968 system introduced the idea of networking personal computer workstations so people could solve problems collaboratively. This was the whole point of the revolution.
"I said, 'It [the Macintosh] is terribly limited. It has no access to anyone else's documents, to e-mail, to common repositories of information,' " recalls Engelbart. "Steve said, 'All the computing power you need will be on your desk top.' "
"I told him, 'But that's like having an exotic office without a telephone or door.' " Jobs ignored Engelbart. And Engelbart was baffled.
"We'd been using electronic mail since 1970 [over the government-backed ARPA network, predecessor to the Internet]. But both Apple and Microsoft Corp. ignored the network. You have to ask 'Why?' " He shrugs his shoulders, a practiced gesture after 30 frustrating years, then recounts the story of Galileo, who dared to theorize that the Earth circles the sun, not vice versa. "Galileo was excommunicated," notes Engelbart. "Later, people said Galileo was right."
He barely pauses before adding, "I know I am right."
NEXT SECTION: Debunking the legend of the mouse