Mark Armstrong is the founder of Longreads and editorial director for Pocket

Last week we lost a pioneer of early computing, Doug Engelbart, and Tom Foremski has an excellent short backstory about the inventor of the mouse. It was Engelbart’s 1968 demo of computer graphical user interfaces that inspired everything we now use today—yet despite his many accomplishments Engelbart struggled in later years to get attention or funding for his work.

Now seems like an appropriate time to look back at some of the early computer demos, and for further reading, check out “Creation Myth,” Malcolm Gladwell’s 2011 New Yorker story on the work of Engelbart, Xerox PARC and Apple.

1. The Early Days of ‘Cloud Computing’ at MIT, 1963 (28 min.)

This is a 1963 interview with professor Fernando J. Corbato at the MIT Computation Center, where he explains the concept of “timesharing,” which they developed to allow teams to work on individual consoles that attach to one centralized computer.


For more from MIT, check out this 1963 demonstration of “sketchpad” software developed by Ivan Sutherland.

2. Hewlett-Packard’s First Personal Computer, 1968 (21 minutes)

Marketing brochures proclaimed that HP’s 9100A was “more than a calculator—it’s really a desk-top computer!” The cost: $4,900. Read more on how the Model 9100A was developed.


3. Doug Engelbart, Stanford Research Institute, 1968 (1 hr., 15 min.)

This two-hour demo from Engelbart, who founded SRI’s Augmentation Research Center, not only introduces the mouse, but also everything from the graphical user interface to hyperlinking, cutting-and-pasting and collaborative editing.

4. Early Digital Teleconferencing, University of Southern California, 1978 (6 min.)

USC’s Informational Sciences Institute produced this filmed demonstration of early digital teleconferencing technology over ARPAnet, complete with guy-who-nearly-misses-the-call-because-he-was-yachting.


5. Xerox Star User Interface, 1982

It was Xerox PARC where Steve Jobs saw the future for Apple, when he visited and got a demo of the Alto personal computer. Xerox released its Star Professional Workstation in 1981, and this clip features Star designers Charles Irby and David Canfield-Smith explaining how the system worked.



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