The Mother of All Demos

The full video of the Mother of All Demos is linked below, but it is nearly 2 hours long. While we’d love to have you watch the whole thing (and you are more than welcome to do so), we wanted to highlight a few of the more important parts. Listed below are the timestamps for a few important sections and a bit of discussion about each one. Feel free to skip around to watch a few of these sections to better understand what Douglas Engelbart was presenting.

  • 1:40 - 3:11 - Introduction. This gives a great overview of the project, and ends with the great line that he will attempt to show, rather than tell, what the NLS system is capable of.
  • 12:53 - 14:40 - Wikis. Here he shows that you can give items a code and then click on the item to get to more information. This is the basic concept behind hyperlinks that make up the World Wide Web, but also the wiki-style of information storage popularized by Wikipedia.
  • 15:35 - 16:30 - Graphics. Here, he expands upon the links shown earlier by adding a graphical map of the locations he needs to visit. So many of our organizational and productivity apps can directly trace some of their functionality back to NLS as shown here.
  • 21:42 - 25:45 - Presentations. Through his use of a “chain of views” Engelbart is able to create a presentation using NLS. This is a precursor to modern applications such as PowerPoint.
  • 30:31 - 32:48 - Mouse. Here Engelbart shows a bit more information about the devices he is using to interface with NLS, including his mouse. Oh yeah, and remote video as well!
  • 42:42 - 43:40 - CRT. Here he shows some remote video of the CRTs that are being used to create the views the audience sees.
  • 1:02:32 - 1:03:45 - Word Processing. While creating documents and papers may seem like a very common use of computers today, it’s very telling to see that it was nearly one hour into the presentation before Engelbart talks about the ability to use NLS to edit papers. This really shows how much focus he placed on building truly usable computer systems that didn’t rely on paper at all.
  • 1:04:01 - 1:06:50 - Email. This is a bit of a surprise! Engelbart and his team needed to communicate and collaborate asynchronously, and came up with a technique for sending and receiving messages. While these weren’t delivered via the internet, many of the concepts and conventions directly correlate to our modern email systems. The “content analyzer” is also an early form of regular expressions.
  • 1:13:03 - 1:16:38 - Live Collaboration. This is honestly the coolest part! Since NLS was a shared computer system, it was easy to build systems where users could collaboratively edit and work with data. It wasn’t until over 40 years later with the development of Google Docs that such capability was widely available in mainstream software. They even predict the idea of webcams!