You may have heard of the Mother of All Demos, especially if you’ve studied, or even read up on, computing history. But have you seen it? There is a video of this legendary event (via, and I personally find it fascinating. Here’s why this is a thing. The demo was given by Doug Engelbart in 1968, when punch cards were how you interfaced with a computer. But in this demo, the world was shown (list via Wikipedia) windows, hypertext, graphics, efficient navigation and command input, video conferencing word processing, dynamic file linking, revision control, a collaborative real-time editor, and the computer mouse. The freaking computer mouse! None of these things existed outside the circle of people involved in the demo. It was huge. No, it was enormous. And many of the people in the demo went on to be involved in the Xerox PARC, which played a major role inspiring Jef Raskin and Steve Jobs for the Mac. The Mother of All Demos resonated through tech culture for decades, and it took decades to make most of that list above mainstream. If you like tech history, you should book some time to watch this. And if you do, think about the context of the times and be amazed. One last note, the typed story at the beginning explains how the movie itself was made.

Check It Out: The Mother of All Demos on Video

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  1. Quinnovator

    The interesting thing, to me, is that all this amazing invention wasn’t to build the environment, it was just a tool to suit his larger goal of finding ways for people to be able to work smarter and solve the problems of the world. I wrote a eulogy for him that tried to contextualize the bigger picture.

  2. John Kheit

    Also Beginnings of WYSIWYG printing. Yep. Messaging, with a more powerful hybrid of messaging and email, with the “#” convention (and other tagging markers). Yep. Beginnings of project management with roles and resources. Yep. Creating hardware and hardware design from software logic definitions. Yep. Screen sharing. Yep. Remote access and control of another system. Yep. Drag and drop placement of words in creating graphics and maps. Yep. Weighting search results and keywords, and search relevance ordering. Yep. Markup language. Yep. Arpanet integration. Mentioned that integration was to come once Arpanet was up with all 20 computers and 20K/sec and 10milisec response time! Integrating computer console controls in ergonomic seating, separated from display. Yep.

    All this was done on a machine they only finished building 6 months before the demo. Truly watershed invention on so many levels. Nothing so truly novel and green field has happened since this demo.

    Every time I watch this my mind boggles.

  3. John Kheit

    One other thing to note, at the 1:00:43sec mark, network based hyper text is introduced, and they don’t even bother to mention it as a feature. This is 23 years before comes out on NeXTstep. “So down the hall in Dave’s office, in his drawer, pulling out the file, we go, ffft, and there you see it, the top view of it [a user guide via hyperlink”.

  4. John Kheit

    BTW, here is something that amazingly has escaped ‘the common mythology’. Those that dont know say Microsoft stole from Apple. Those that think they know say Apple stole from Xerox.

    The reality is that Xerox stole from Doug and SRI at Stanford. All of modern computing has been recreating what Doug did at SRI in ’68 and before. What’s worse is how marginalized Doug was (inventor of the mouse–such a joke, the guy made all of modern computing). I mean, just as PART of the demo he creates hypertext. HYPERTEXT PEOPLE! Yet, people still marginalize him. Machine Oriented Language (MOL) code, basically optimized byte code that is fast machine code yet works with high level structure and dynamically run, and compiler compilers so that language and syntax can change on the fly. Yep in that demo. Bug reporting on system, and revision control not only in general, but PER LINE revision control for multi user systems tracking changes per edit. Yep. Dynamic operating system and development system revision on a live system. Yep. Windowing. Yep. Multiple views of same data. Yep. Embedded links. Yep. Outlining. Yep. Graphics in integrated windows. Yep. Outlines into integrated graphics and hyperlinks in between. Yep. Presentation software. Yep. Menus. Yep. Object oriented programming. Yep. Network computing. Yep. Multimedia presentation. Yep. Video chat. Yep. Inverted paper white display with multi wipe for flicker free display by going off short term memory (can you say bitmap). Yep. Collaborative over network work. Yep. Complex text processing through simplified GUI. Yep. All on time sharing computer with 4 computers off a 512K (as in KILOBYTE) machine doing all that. Real time interaction with computer instead of batch. Yep. And way way more. CRAZY CRAZY S***!

    I’m half surprised Ancient Aliens doesn’t do a special on Doug and this demo, because he basically landed from another planet with this demo. It makes the best Steve Jobs presentation look like cute amateur hour.

  5. ibuck

    Amazing that this was happening a year or two before I learned FORTRAN or COBOL, and was learning to be precise when using punchcards.

    I was also impressed by the programming which showed the route to taking shopping and what to buy at each stop—by clicking on it.

    So what iOS program(s) do we have today that could accomplish similar shopping organization?

  6. John Kheit

    There are still things in that video that don’t exist even today. NeXT reminds me of this a bit, there are still things on NeXTstep that are not in macOS today.

    By the way, to make the video conferencing work, they made their own custom microwave modem to beam the thing and super impose it.

    This presentation was so far out there, people thought it was a hoax at the time. Truly brings meaning to the word incredible.

  7. xmattingly

    I love this video, it’s in my YouTube favorites playlist (watched it a couple of times). It’s a shame more people don’t know about Doug Engelbart — he’s a god in the world of personal computing. Also, one of my favorite things about this demo: his reverberating voice, calmly showing the world what the future of computing will be, nearly two decades before it was brought to mass market.

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