Doug Engelbart who invented the computer mouse as an engineer at the Stanford Research Institute, has died. He was 88.

Doug Engelbart in 2008 at a Stanford event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the introduction of interactive computing.

Doug Engelbart in 2008 at a Stanford event celebrating the 40th anniversary of the introduction of interactive computing. Engelbart died Tuesday at the age of 88. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Engelbart died Tuesday at his home in Atherton, Calif., his family said.

Engelbart, who lectured at Stanford in the 1990s, was known as a visionary – a big-picture thinker who also knew the technical details.

In 1968, he wowed the world’s leading computer scientists at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, where he showed off the pioneering work he and his colleagues were doing at the institute, now called SRI International.

He got a standing ovation for the presentation, often called the “mother of all demos.” In it, he introduced the mouse, hyperlinks, live text editing and interactive computing.

When Engelbart got his own lab at SRI in 1963, computers were mainframes, programmed with stacks of paper punch cards.

“His vision was so far ahead of his time that people still don’t understand it,” said Paul Saffo, a consulting professor in engineering at Stanford, who knew Engelbart.

The idea for the mouse came in the early 1960s when Engelbart’s lab, the Augmentation Research Center, held a NASA contract to develop a better way to select items on a computer display screen.

The light pen and joystick had already been invented but didn’t work well. The team looked for new ideas.

Engelbart showed William English, SRI’s chief engineer, an idea he sketched in his pocket notebook. It was essentially a joystick turned upside down. That was expanded into the mouse.

While he is best known for the mouse, his goal was not to engineer user-friendly computers, Saffo said. In fact, he preferred higher performance over usability.

“He wanted to use these marvelous new machines to augment human intellect, to make us smarter, to make better decisions,” Saffo said. “He was an extraordinarily long-range thinker.”

Engelbart’s pocket notebook is among the items in the Douglas C. Engelbart Collection in the Department of Special Collections at the Stanford University Libraries. The collection also includes videotapes and computer tape backups spanning Engelbart’s career from 1959 to the late 1980s.

The total collection comprises some 107 boxes of materials.

“Doug was a giant who made the world a much better place and who deeply touched those of us who knew him,” said Curtis R. Carlson, president and CEO of SRI. “We will miss his genius, warmth and charm. Doug’s legacy is immense – anyone in the world who uses a mouse or enjoys the productive benefits of a personal computer is indebted to him.”

SRI was founded by Stanford University as the Stanford Research Institute in 1946. It became independent of the university in 1970. Based in Menlo Park, it is a nonprofit institute conducting contract research and development for government agencies, businesses and foundations.

Engelbart was honored with many prestigious awards over his career, including the Lemelson-MIT Prize, the most lucrative award for American inventors. He also received the National Medal of Technology from former President Bill Clinton “for creating the foundations of personal computing.