Douglas Englebart and the Mother of all Demos

On December 9, 1968, something huge took place in the world of computing. Indeed, it was an event that would help shape our world as we know it today.  This event, spearheaded by one Douglas Englebart, showcased several technologies that we know and love today, but, in 1968, were absolutely extraordinary.

firstMouseSo, what was this earth-shattering event? It was ‘The Mother of all Demos’.  This demo, showcasing the ideas that Englebart and his staff were working on at the Stanford Research Institute.

The result of the work, and what was demonstrated, was called NLS or oN Line System. The audience of a thousand were witness to the first live demo of: interconnected computers, the mouse, video teleconferencing, word processing, collaborative software, hypertext, objects in the computer space, a very, very crude type of graphical interface (sans real graphics, more like cursor addressable text, but the basis for gui’s were there) and more.

Englebart and his team were way ahead of the technology, however. And, not all of his ideas were accepted. For instance, the piano key style ‘quick keys’ never really took off.  This device consisted of several (four or five) multipurpose keys (that looked like piano keys) that execute what were, essentially, macros. It was a novel idea, but never took off.

Englebart went on to put his interconnectivity ideas to use in what was to become the ARPANET. ARPANET was the precursor to our current Internet.

Englebart and his team continued to work at the Augmentation Research Center into the 1970’s, which saw the dawn of personal computing. Interestingly enough, he didn’t fully embrace the notion of the ‘personal’ computer, instead, he foresaw networked, collaborative computing. More like timeshare or client-server style computing. He may have been onto something, as the majority of people now work in the type of setup: you may spend a grand on a computer, but what is the first thing you want to do with it: get on the Internet. It was this difference in philosophy that caused many of his colleagues to run off to Xerox Parc and work on the Graphical User Interface that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates ripped off and what gave way to our modern way of computing.

Douglas Englebart was a visionary who, unfortunately, got swept away by time and flashy personalities like Jobs.  People tend to credit Jobs and Gates for most of our computing advancements, but it was Englebart who led the way and laid the foundation for those two to build upon.

Mr. Englebart passed away on July 3, 2013. He was 88 years old.

For more information on the man and his research:


Bardini, Thierry. Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8047-3871-8

Douglas Englebart’s Demo, December 8, 1968

Using Windows 8: Be one with the mouse and don’t worry about touch

(For reference, when I speak of Windows RT or just RT, I am referring to the ‘metro’ or Windows 8 store style.)

halfbytestartpageSince it’s release, Windows 8 has been equally praised and panned. Haters have heralded it as the death knell for both Microsoft and Windows. Recently, Microsoft said it had sold 40 million copies. 40 million.  That’s slightly better than what Windows 7 had done at this point in its release. While hardly the runaway hit that Microsoft hopes for, Windows 8 has, nonetheless, done well. Now, it is true that the majority of those installs are on new computers and tablets, and there is no number on how many of them have now been downgraded to Windows 7 or earlier (shudder!)

Still, there are millions of people using Windows 8 and, I am guessing, the vast majority of them have already figured out how to live with and even love the new RT interface.  RT apps are, for the most part, just nice (gorgeous, perhaps) to look at and use. Many are prettier than anything from any of the competition, including Apple.  Just look at Cookbook. It is stunning for a piece of software.

So, what are the basics you need to know when using the RT interface?

Well, for non-touch devices, you really just need a two button mouse with a scroll wheel, pretty standard these days. And, if you have ever moved things around a photo or art app with the mouse, then you have already mastered Windows 8.

Closing an RT app

There are many ways (keyboard shortcuts do work, like ALT-F4) but the best and easiest way is to place the mouse at the top of the screen, hold down the left button and drag the app to the bottom of the screen and let go. In one swoop, you’ve closed the application. 

Switching to another app

Move the mouse to the upper left corner and the last app you used (provided it is still open) will show its tile. Move the mouse down and the list of currently running RT apps will reveal their tiles. Simply move the mouse the one you want and click it. You can also close an app here by right clicking and choosing CLOSE.

Charming, to the last

Moving your mouse to the lower right corner will reveal the charms bar. From here, you can search, share data or access hardware and settings.

But, where do I go for the Start page?

When you are in any other app, move your mouse to the lower left to access the Start page.  Alternately, if you have a Windows keyboard, press the Windows key.

Ok, this IS Windows, how the hell do I see more than one app?

twoappsatonceMicrosoft may need to rethink the name of the product when the ditch the desktop altogether. However, there is a way to see TWO (oohhh, ahhhh) apps at once, though one will be much smaller.  Open the first app you want to use, then open the second (it can be a desktop app too.) Switch back to the first app (an RT app) then drag it down like are going to close it, but about midway down, move it to the left or right side, like you would dock a Windows 7 window. The application should rest there, though dramatically smaller, almost like a sidebar. Next, switch to the second app (by moussing to the upper left, and then selecting the app) and it should fall into the larger section of your screen. Viola! TWO, count ‘em, TWO apps at the same time!  Now, keep in mind, not all Windows thingies will be available, such as drag and drop and not all RT will work in this mode. But, hey, it is a start.

Your scroll wheel is your friend

Now, since RT was designed, primarily, with touch in mind, the applications are linear. That is, most of them will scroll sideways instead of vertically.  They are meant to be swiped left and right. So, no touchscreen means these apps are difficult, right? Well, no.  If you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, you can use the wheel to ‘swipe’ left and right. It works surprisingly well.  You could use the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen, but what fun is that?

win8startshortcutOK, that’s nice that I can scroll over on my Start page, but what if I want to see it all at once? (Huh? I can name my groups too?)

Easy. Along the very bottom of the Start page is the scroll bar. In the very right hand bottom, you will see a small box with a minus sign. Click it. Go on, you KNOW you want to. Ah, there. Doesn’t that feel good? Oh, win8startfullwhat’s that? You see all of your tiles? Well, yeah, you are supposed to see them. This gives you two things: the ability to see all of your tiles and…check this out…you can name your groups of tiles.  To do so, arrange the tiles the way you want. Next, click the minus sign in the scroll bar. Move the mouse over each group and right click. In the options customizeStartbar, click the ‘Name group’ button. Enter the name for the group in the box and press ENTER. The name appears over the group. Pretty cool and a nice way to organize your Start page.

One way of seeing all of your apps, desktop or RT, is to right click anywhere on your Start page and click ‘All Apps’ in the lower right of the screen. Every app that is installed on your computer will be displayed. Even the hidden Windows desktop apps (like Command or Character Map) will display and will be grouped as well.  Right clicking an app reveals more options. You can, for example, pin to the taskbar, open in a new window, etc.

It’s a mystery…where DID I put that file?

win8searchPerhaps the nicest feature of Windows 8 is its search ability.  From the Start page, just begin to type. The search bar pops up on the right side and a real time search commences as you type. You can specify the types of files to be searched or let Windows look in all files.  It will break down the types of files that it found your search term and display it in the info bar along the top of the screen. The search is quick and reliable. It was an eye opener for me and I’m glad that Microsoft finally put Bing in my computer.

So, we’ve seen some pretty cool stuff and it is all in the RT side of the house. Your mouse is your best friend in Windows 8/RT on a PC.  Touchpads seem to work as well, but, for us diehards, the mouse is still our trusty companion.

Windows 8 on non-touch devices, easier than it might seem

Win8LogoSo, Windows 8 will be released to the public on October 26, 2012.  As you may know, it is a pretty radical departure for Microsoft.  Gone are our favorite little bits like the Start button and menu, the pretty transparent graphical user interface, most of the Windows ‘chrome’, some user interface customization and other small but collectively cool stuff. In is a new ‘Start’ page where all of your applications are accessed, a flattened appearance, more attention to typography and colors and the overall appearance. Also in are full screen apps and no overlapping windows (in the ‘metro’ interface.) The new Metro interface was, however, designed with touch interfaces in mind.

One thing that may not be apparent, however, is what to do if you do NOT have a touch enabled device. Well, mouse and keyboard do play nice with the Metro interface although, at first sight, this does not seem true.

One thing I’ve heard over and over is ‘how do you close down an application?’  Simple, just drag the app to the bottom of the screen. You can do this with the mouse or your finger if you have a touch device. Alternately, ALT-F4 still works. You can also kill the task with Task Manager. Finally, you can move the mouse to the upper left corner, watch the thumbnail appear, and slowly move the mouse down. A list of running apps will display. Hover over one and right click, then click CLOSE. The first two options are, however, the quickest.

Here are a few more hotkeys for Windows 8 that might make a non-touch user work a little easier:

Keys: Windows 8 Function
Windows+[space] Switch language and keyboard
Windows+, Show what’s on the desktop
Windows+[pgup] or [pgdown] Move a Metro app to the monitor on left or right in multi monitor configuration
Windows+F File Search
Windows+Z Application Bar
Windows+H Opens the share charm
Windows+C Opens the charm bar
Windows+I Settings
Windows+[tab] Switch between apps
Windows+Q Opens the Search page
Windows+J Move between the snapped and filled apps
Windows+E Open Windows File Explorer (the old Windows Explorer renamed)
Windows+M Go to the Windows Desktop

Below is a chart from Microsoft explaining the touch and mouse gestures. Whish I had this a few months ago.  As an aside, Microsoft will have a lot of education to give to the general public before Windows 8 will take off and not be a colossal flop.