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"And so then in 1968 we had a computer conference. And there were a few more people, but this was going to be at Civic Auditorium in San Francisco."
Douglas Engelbart speaking at the legendary NLS demonstration

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Click to play videoDemonstration at the FJCC


NLS Demonstration <1968>

Bill English and I wrote a paper for the Fall Joints Computer Conference describing ARC's objectives, physical laboratory, and the current features of NLS. In the Spring, when the Program Committee was considering candidate papers and organizing its sessions, I also proposed that they let us have a full hour-and-a-half session to put on a video-projected, real-time presentation. After considerable deliberation, and no less than two site visits to our lab at SRI, they consented.

It was a considerable gamble, possibly an outright misuse of research funding. I have no illusions that it could possibly have been pulled off without Bill English's genius for getting things to work. Our new display system provided us with twelve video cameras; we left about half of them working as display generators, and used the others to provide video views of people, borrowing tripods and drafting all kinds of people as camera operators and prompters.

So we put together a show. And we leased two video lines up from Menlo Park to send images from SRI to the Conference Center in San Francisco – a direct distance of about 30 miles. It required temporarily mounting four pairs of dishes – two atop our SRI building, two atop the Conference hall, and four on a truck parked on top of a relay mountain. We procured some video-lab equipment: frame splitters, switches, faders, and mixers. We made special electronics to get our mouse and other terminal signals from the podium to the 940 at SRI.

And back home in the laboratory we took cameras off our different things, borrowed tripods, got helpers to come and help us. So we had different people, cameramen. Stewart Brand, who was a friend of ours locally volunteered to come and run help run cameras.

It required a special video projector, whose rental included a specialist from New York to set it up and operate it. He proved invaluable in making other things work that day, too. Two cameras were mounted on the stage where I sat at the special workstation .

I was on-stage as anchor man during the continuous, 90-minute presentation, and Bill sat in the canvas-enclosed, raised booth at the back of the auditorium, directing the participants according the the script that I had prepared. People in our laboratory had key roles, and Bill coordinated us all via a voice intercom; while he also did the switching and mixing and frame splitting to put together the projected images. And I sat there with the console and a camera sitting above the monitor to watch my hands. And another camera and monitor to watch my face.

I talk and that comes out on the microphone, but there's also an earplug. What do I hear in there? It's Bill English sitting in back in that platform, coordinating the different people down in the peninsula, etc., for them when they're going to come on, because they come on and their faces get projected and they see things and they're going to run things. And so all that chatter up and down the peninsula, that's going on in my ear while I'm talking here.

So it's the world's first view of a mouse, where you could see the hand moving like that and the cursor moving to show them how it was, going like that. Yes, I did it. Looking down, you could watch my hands work on the mouse and the keyset and see the results on the top half of the screen.

And sometimes I would look interested, but at first I was fairly grim because then I'd really make some boo-boos. That stuff going on in my ear, one of the things you'll notice in there is that when Bill Paxton gives his talk and description, he's running what's on the screen here now. And there were videos here. And before he did that, he was talking to me. And we were looking at all of my stuff. And both our mice cursors were on the thing. So there's some terminology in here like that. People weren't talking about "clicking" and a "cursor." So what they called a "cursor" here, we called a "bug" or a "tracking spot."

And part way through you'd hear these funny beep beep beep beep tones. It's because we were experimenting, that we could generate tones off the computer that would sort of sound different depending on what the computer was executing. We were playing those in our ears to see if it would help you know what it's doing for you. So those come through sometimes, too.

During that 90 minutes, we used the projected display images (composite text and graphics) both to present agendas and descriptive portrayals, and also to demonstrate what NLS could do and how we applied it to our planning, documenting, source-code development, business management, and document retrieval.