Of all the pioneers of personal computers and the Web, Douglas Engelbart may be the poorest and least-known. But the man who invented the mouse is finally winning recognition as the 1997 winner of the Lemelson-MIT prize--a $500,000 jackpot awarded annually to an American inventor.

Engelbart, 72, began his work in 1951. In the 1960s, at Stanford Research Institute, his inventions included on-screen windows with menus, groupware, and hypertext. He came up with the mouse in 1963, carving the first one from wood. He got no royalties, though, because researchers then assigned patents to their employers.

Engelbart says his big frustration is that his inventions have never fulfilled his dream: having computers help solve society's problems. He still promotes his ideals through the Bootstrap Institute, a think tank he founded in 1989. Compared with the challenges ahead, he warns, "everything in the past is peanuts."

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