Memories - A Tribute to the Simplicity of the GUI
This article was written by Jason Fitzpatrick, director of the Centre for Computing History, as a test for posting articles online.
It wasn't long ago that the Graphical User Interface became available to the computing masses. At the time of writing this (4th March 2008) the GUI is only about 25 years old. Launched in January 1983, the Apple Lisa was the first commercially available computer to feature a graphical user interface, and how things have changed since ...
There is nothing technical about this article, it is simply a testimony to the GUI and all that it has helped achieve, prompted by the fact that I have been watching my 3 year old son happily using Windows XP, navigating the web, and watching music videos !
I think the fact that a 3 year old can, by trial and error, learn to use an advanced computer system, is possibly the best testimony for the design and intuity of todays GUI.
I don't want to get into any comparisions or arguments between Apple and Microsoft - I think for the purpose of this article they can be considered on a par.
I think Max (my son) was about 2 when the lure of the bright computer screen attracted him. He was soon reaching for the mouse and moving it around and it was fairly instantly that he noticed that moving the mouse caused the cursor to move around on the screen.
At first he didn't quite have the mouse held at the right angle which meant that the relationship between the mouse movement and the cursor was disjointed but definately linked. It was only a matter of weeks before I noticed that he had worked out how to hold the mouse at the right angle. Was this the ergonomics of the mouse or the fact that it was usually left in the right positon on the desk, or did he notice one day that the cursor movement on the screen made sense when he held the mouse this way? Either way, he was two years old when he learnt to control the mouse ...
To click or double click?
For quite some time Max just moved the cursor around the screen and clicked the mouse buttons randomly, usually performing drag operations on desktop icons and annoying the hell out of me! But it at some point his actions of pointing at an icon and then clicking became apparent. He was still only two but had worked out that these icons were there to be clicked. He wasn't getting anywhere at first as it takes a quick double click to action them, but out of frustration he clicked repeatedly and very soon realised that just two clicks in succession would get him somewhere.