A Brief History of Gui
By: Mike • Essay • 764 Words • June 13, 2010 • 945 Views
A Brief History of Gui
Today, almost everybody in the developed world interacts with personal computers in some form or another. We use them at home and at work, for entertainment, information, and as tools to leverage our knowledge and intelligence. It is pretty much assumed whenever anyone sits down to use a personal computer that it will operate with a graphical user interface. We expect to interact with it primarily using a mouse, launch programs by clicking on icons, and manipulate various windows on the screen using graphical controls. But this was not always the case. Why did computers come to adopt the GUI as their primary mode of interaction, and how did the GUI evolve to be the way it is today?
Like many developments in the history of computing, some of the ideas for a GUI computer were thought of long before the technology was even available to build such a machine. One of the first people to express these ideas was Vannevar Bush. In the early 1930s he first wrote of a device he called the "Memex," which he envisioned as looking like a desk with two touch screen graphical displays, a keyboard, and a scanner attached to it. It would allow the user to access all human knowledge using connections very similar to how hyperlinks work. At this point, the digital computer had not been invented, so there was no way for such a device to actually work, and Bush's ideas were not widely read or discussed at that time.
However, starting in about 1937 several groups around the world started constructing digital computers. World War II provided much of the motivation and funding to produce programmable calculating machines, for everything from calculating artillery firing tables to cracking the enemy's secret codes. The perfection and commercial production of vacuum tubes provided the fast switching mechanisms these computers needed to be useful. In 1945, Bush revisited his older ideas in an article entitled "As We May Think," which was published in the Atlantic Monthly, and it was this essay that inspired a young Douglas Englebart to try and actually build such a machine.
Douglas Englebart completed his degree in electrical engineering in 1948 and settled down in a nice job at the NACA Institute (the forerunner of NASA). However, one day while driving to work he had an epiphany: he realized that his real calling as an engineer was not to work on small projects that might only benefit a few people. Instead, he wanted to work on something that would benefit all of humanity. He recalled Bush's essay and started thinking about ways in which a machine could be built that would augment human intellect. During the war he had worked as a radar operator, so he was able to envision a display system built around cathode ray tubes where the user could