IEEE Milestone: Public Demo of Online Systems & Personal Computing


Milestone: Public Demonstration of Online Systems and Personal Computing, 1968

Dedication Date: March 19, 2017

The technologies in this demo, performed at Brooks Hall in San Francisco, in December 1968, helped catalyze a fundamental change in the way computers are used. After this, they were seen as communication and knowledge navigation devices and not just for calculation.

A variety of technologies were shown in this demo that made their way into later computing systems – video conferencing, hypertext, collaborative editing, mice, GUIs, etc. Many of these would go on to influence the Xerox PARC Alto and later the Macintosh and Windows operating systems.

The practical obstacles were getting funding for such radical ideas, assembling the world-class hardware and software engineers needed to make them a reality, and developing the actual software and hardware given that most of the main elements needed to be invented or at developed from scratch. The main obstacle, however, was one of attitude: the mainstream computer science community and industry of the era did not see communication and knowledge navigation as a practical or cost-effective application for computers.

It’s difficult to think of any comparable achievements; this short demo gave a working glimpse of the major end-user computing technologies of the next twenty-five-plus years.


“Commonly termed the “Mother of All Demos,” Douglas Engelbart and his team demonstrated their oNLine System (NLS) at Brooks Hall in San Francisco on 9 December 1968. Connected via microwave link to the host computer and other remote users at SRI in Menlo Park, the demonstration showcased many fundamental technologies that would become ubiquitous, including collaborative online editing, hypertext, video conferencing, word processing, spell checking, revision control, and the mouse.”


Stanford Research Institute
Wall, in lobby, ground floor entrance
333 Ravenswood Ave.
Menlo Park, CA 94025