Throughout the IT industry, there are numerous iconic people whose very names will have us easily recalling the technologies for which they have become famous because they have had a transformational effect on the way we run our lives. In 1981, the lesser-known Adam Osborne invented the first laptop – aptly named the Osborne 1 – setting the scene for laptop computers to be fully commercialized and made into a mainstream success by IBM, Compaq, and NEC.
Then there’s Bill Gates – the founder of Microsoft – whose Windows Operating Systems dominated the business and home environments and made personal computing a reality for all. And let’s not forget Steve Jobs – the man behind Apple – who gave us the iPad and made interactive computing through touching our tablet, phone, PC, and laptop screens now the accepted – and doubtlessly expected – norm. All of these inventors are some of the reasons why it is now increasingly possible for a field service technician to use some kind of mobile device while out in the field.
But what about Douglas Englebart? And at this point you are probably reading this with a quizzical expression on your face asking, “Who is Douglas Englebart?” Exactly…he’s one of the personal computing industry’s forgotten heroes but one who has affected everyone who uses a computer today, or has done so throughout the past thirty-some years. That’s because many years ago Doug invented what is now known as the mouse. And when did this happen? In the early 1960s: long before the personal computing boom occurred in the 1990s, and 2000s. This man was clearly a visionary, and since the mouse became a mainstream component of personal computing, over one billion of these simple devices have now been manufactured.
While the mouse rarely made it out into the field – because it was still cumbersome to use a laptop in a mobile environment with a mouse attached – the concept of interacting with the computing device using the hand and fingers still had a transformational effect that would filter down into the field soon-enough. Laptops eventually incorporated touchpads, and touch-points (that’s the little button that appears usually in the center of a laptop keyboard) to give the user mouse-like control without actually connecting a mouse itself. The mouse concept was evolving. And today, field service representatives simply use their fingers to touch the screen of their tablet devices to navigate through their software.
But with so many mouse devices sold, unfortunately for Doug, he never became wealthy as a result. The BBC reports that his patent expired in 1987 just before the mouse became a computing necessity. And at the age of 88, Doug died peacefully at the beginning of July 2013.
So while Doug’s passing will go largely unnoticed by most of us, let’s just take a moment to reflect on the fact that behind every device that we take for granted today is a genius who came up with the idea in the first place. Without people like Adam Osborne, Douglas Englebart and Steve Jobs, life in the field today would be much harder than it is now.