William English, co-creator of computer mouse, passes away aged 91 in California

By: |
August 4, 2020 4:26 PM

An SRI colleague of English, Bill Duvall said that English was a problem solver and that he made everything happen.

Around 1960, English had joined Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI).Around 1960, English had joined Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). (Image: SRI International)

William English, the man who was a key engineer in co-creating a computer mouse and gave the users the facility of moving images on screen, has passed away at the age of 91. According to a report in the NYT, English died in California on July 26 due to respiratory failure. Around 1960, English had joined Douglas Engelbart at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to aid him in the development of a predecessor of what is today’s computer. Their version of the computer has a brown box with buttons or mouse which was a key piece of their model since it helped users control the objects on a screen interface.

NYT wrote that English had been able to understand Engelbart’s vision when, in an era of storage of information using facilities like punch cards, the latter had found it hard to articulate what he looked for in the future computer. An SRI colleague of English, Bill Duvall said that English was a problem solver and that he made everything happen.

William had played an important role in the ‘mother of all demos’ in 1968, during which Engelbart had used a split-screen video to show side-by-side the movements of a hand-controlled mouse and the on-screen movement of the cursor. Engelbart said that he did not know why the device was called a mouse, as it had started that way and they just never changed.

In this demo, English was producing the video, and apparently using a NASA-owned projector the size of a car. The demo had helped in giving a peek at the interfaces that Microsoft and Apple would bring to the world of technology in the 1980s. Apart from that, English had also built the computer mouse in the mid-1960s with the help of the sketches made by Engelbart.

The early 1970s saw English joining the Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) of Xerox and he brought ideas from the online system (NLS) at SRI to the Alto machine. The Alto machine had later gone on to inspire the first Macintosh computers and the Windows PCs.

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