William English, the engineer and researcher who helped build the first computer mouse and, in 1968, orchestrated an elaborate demonstration of the input controller that foretold personal computers to follo, died on July 26 in San Rafael, California at the age of 91.
His death, at a medical facility, was confirmed by his wife, Roberta English, who said the cause was respiratory failure.
In the late 1950s, after leaving a career in the Navy, Mr. English joined a Northern California research lab called the Stanford Research Institute, or S.R.I. (now known as SRI International). There he met Douglas Engelbart, a fellow engineer who hoped to build a new kind of computer.
At a time when only specialists used computers, entering and retrieving information through punched cards, typewriters and printouts, Mr. Engelbart envisioned a machine that anyone could use simply by manipulating images on a screen. It was a concept that would come to define the information age, but by his own admission Mr. Engelbart had struggled to explain his vision to others.
Mr. English, known to everyone as Bill, was one of the few who understood these ideas and who had the engineering talent, patience and social skills needed to realize them. “He was the guy who made everything happen,” said Bill Duvall, who worked alongside Mr. English during those years. “If you told him something needed to be done, he figured out how to do it.”
Among other things, Mr. Engelbart, who died in 2013 at 88, envisioned a mechanical device that could move a cursor across a screen and perform discrete tasks by selecting particular symbols or images. Mr. English made this a reality, building the first computer mouse and, through a series of tests, showing that it could navigate a screen faster than any other device developed at S.R.I.
Their multifaceted experimental computer was called oNLine System, or NLS, and on Dec. 9, 1968, they unveiled it at an event in San Francisco that became known as “The Mother of All Demos.”
MacDailyNews Take: Thank you, Mr. English! R.I.P.
The Mother of All Demos: