Yesterday, the pioneers of the computing revolution gathered together at Stanford University''s Memorial Auditorium to celebrate the birthday of interactive computing. On Dec 9th, 1968 Doug Engelbart and his team from the Augmentation Research Center at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) gave a 90-minute demo that rocked a world used to punch cards and teletype machines. The demonstration included hypertext linking, multiple windows, real-time text editing, shared screen teleconferencing, and the computer mouse. Perhaps even more revolutionary, it showed that a computer could help people with more varied tasks then mathematical computation''like managing a shopping list (something I do on my computer to this day).
After watching clips of the demo, the crowd at the anniversary celebration gave Engelbart, sitting in the audience, a long and enthusiastic standing ovation. Then a panel of folks that were there at the beginning talked about that break through demonstration and the evolution of computing since.
The mood was one of nostalgia; during breaks, black and white slides of longhaired computer researchers flashed on a screen, accompanied by the 1968 hit ''Those Were the Days''.
There was a lot of talk of what we''ve gained''better search and universal access make computing a far more powerful proposition than it was back in the 60s. But there was also talk of what we''ve lost. Said Andries van Dam, a professor of computer science at Brown University who attended the 1968 demonstration, ''This vision hasn''t been realized. We can do a lot of the individual things that were done in [Engelbart''s] system better, but they don''t play nice together. They had everything interoperable in this superrich environment. We''ve lost that.''
''I''m looking for a reintegration of the various components so we can go back to the future,'' van Dam said to a burst of applause, pointing out, in particular, the ease of multimedia teleconferencing on the 1968 system. But, he mused, ''I don''t see how we are going to get there.''