The Graphical User Interface.
Time for a Paradigm Shift?

History of the GUI

Xerox Star
The Xerox Star 1981
A Historic Overview.

The first Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) theorist was Vannevar Bush, a War Scientist who worked at MIT (Massachusets Institute of Technology) during World War II. In 1945 he published the article "As We May Think" 4 in a magazine, in which he describes his vision of an information-administration tool, the Memex. The concept envisions a hypermedia system in which data is stored on microfilm and made accessible, linkable and programmable.

After the Second World War America was the center of technological innovation. In the 1950ies computers were rare and huge machines, and computer-users were highly-skilled specialists.These early computers were equipped with numerical "command line" interfaces.

When Russia presented Sputnik in 1957, America had to fear their role as the leading technological superpower. The American government invested large budgets in scientific innovation in the field of computing. "Generals, Admirals and 7year olds" should be enabled to use computers. The NASA founded several research institutions within the ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) and brought the brightest scientists from all over the country together.

Douglas Engelbart was one of them. He had already been researching in Human-Computer Interaction in the early 1950ies at Stanford University. Heavily inspired by the theories of Vannevar Bush, Engelbart saw the computer as an "augmenting" tool. He used "augmentation" as the opposite concept of "automatation" and meant to empower the user instead of replacing human work by computers. Engelbart became head of the ARC (Augmentation Research Center) in the early 1960s, where the following concepts and devices were developed:
- Combination of Computer, Keyboard and Video Screen
- Word processing Software
- Mouse and the priciple of Pointing and Clicking
- Multiple Windows
- Hypertext Software
- Computer Conferences (between connected machines, text-based)
All these devices created the basis of "direct manipulation", since then a paradigm in Human-Computer interaction - the concept of interaction by a natural gesture.

Other famous pioneers in HCI were Ivan Sutherland, who developed a direct-manipulable drawing program in 1957 at M.I.T. called "Sketchpad", and J.R.C. Licklider, who wrote the famous article "The Man-Computer Symbiosis" in 1960, in which he explained his visionary ideas about future data processing methods.

Some ten years later, in the early 1970ies, America faced a political crisis. The vietnam war and social changes made the population question the development of war-orientated technologies. Military research budgets were shortened and the ARPA broke up.

Yet there was a computer market already. IBM had a monopoly position on hardware and software then. IBM sold big business computers which were programmed by IBM technicians on IBM punchcards, a time-intensive and complicated procedure.

Another big corporation,Xerox Photocopiers, now invested in technological research, faced by the popular vision of the "paperless office". The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, short PARC, gathered computer scientists and programmers, took the most important ideas of Human-Computer Interaction pioneers as their starting point, and innovated Computer Input- and Output devices. Their aim was to develop the architecture of information for the future, as well as to humanize computers.

Palo Alto was situated in the middle of the 70ie's students-revolts and Left Alternative movement in California, in ehich the computer played an important role. IBM was seen as the big enemy, and computing was still equalized with power and control. Ted Nelson's book "Computer Lib" 5 became the bible of a student revolt demanding the liberation of computing and electronic communication.

Researchers at Xerox PARC, among themBob Taylor, Alan Kay, etc., developed the first prototype of a Personal Computer in the 1970ies: the Xerox Alto. It represented most of Douglas Engelbarts ideas about direct manipulation, and used a mouse as pointing device, a keyboard for data input as well as a video-screen as an output device. Furthermore, the operating-system was no longer a command-line interface but the very first Graphical User Interface, called Xerox Star.

Xerox made the big mistake not to develop the Alto prototype further to become a marketable product. It was seen as a too expensive experiment by the corporation. In the meantime the microprocessor had entered the market of computing. Hobbyist clubs released Do-it-Yourself kits like the "Altair kit" for building small computers at home, the so-called Personal Computers.

The idea of easy-to-use home computers was adopted by Apple, a young company from the background of the Hobbyist clubs. Steve Jobs of Apple was heavily inspired by the PARC innovations. After a visit at Xerox PARC at which he was presented Xerox Star, he decided to build a GUI on his own, which should run on the computers his company was producing. Jobs made a shareholder-deal with Xerox, as a compensation Xerox supplied Apple with some of their technologists to build a GUI.

Macintosh 1984
The Macintosh 1984
The first Apple Personal Computer transformed the ideas around Xerox Star into a marketable product: the Apple Macintosh. Launched in 1984, it was a big commercial success. The Desktop Metaphor, Drop-down Menus, Folders, the Wastebasket and Overlapping Windows were the core innovations of the Apple-GUI.

Introduced in 1984, the Macintosh features a graphical user interface (GUI) that utilizes windows, icons, and a mouse to make it relatively easy for novices to use the computer productively. Rather than learning a complex set of commands, you need only point to a selection on a menu and click a mouse button. Moreover, the GUI is embedded into the operating system. This means that all applications that run on a Macintosh computer have a similar user interface. Once a user has become familiar with one application, he or she can learn new applications relatively easily. The success of the Macintosh GUI led heralded a new age of graphics-based applications and operating systems. The Windows interface copies many features from the Mac. 6

The Macintosh, advertised as "the computer for the rest of us", was the first PC that aimed at a user-group of novices. Apple believed in a system of combining hardware and software to a whole. Users were always forced to buy Apple's expensive hardware to use the Macintosh GUI. And the GUI was the essential revolution: it enabled everybody to use and understand a computer within small time. The Mac GUI superseded command-line interfaces that were only known by specialists, and became a paradigm for Human-Computer Interaction that has not been broken until today.

Windows 1995 Windows 1995 In 1990 Microsoft, a software company selling a command-line Operating system called MS Dos, finally managed to introduce a GUI for their Windows Operating System, using exactly the same metaphors as Macintosh. Windows 3.0 was very successful - it became the standard operating system on the PC-market, later followed by the even more successful Windows 95 package. Microsoft's strategy of monopolising the market by selling whole software-packages and introducing an upgrading system for software soon made Microsoft the market-leader in PC software.

The GUI´s Impact on Society.

This way the GUI as we know it today became a standard in Human-Computer Interaction, and has influenced the work and communication of a generation of computer literates. It has become a transparent layer any PC-user relies on.

The GUI also helped to develop a whole new industry for publishers and designers within Desktop Publishing - revolutionising (and partly wiping out) the print and typesetting industry.
Opposite the fast developing hardware market, the GUI until today did not evolve or change very much, considering what would be possible. Its paradigms like the desktop metaphor, drop-down menus, overlapping windows etc. still are the same.

Yet Apple's Operating System Ten, which will be available on the market in approximately half a year's time from now, will be sold with a whole new interface, called "Aqua". This new interface will be examined further in the next chapter.


The Mac OSX "Aqua" Interface