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When the Macintosh was introduced in 1984, it represented something altogether new to the public – an affordable Graphical User Interface (GUI) on a computer with a mouse. Suddenly, while others were typing commands like “del,” Mac users were dragging and dropping the image of a file into the image of a trash can. Users had a computer with an interface that made sense (intuitive). But although Apple was the first to successfully mass-produce a GUI, they were not its inventors, nor were they the first to market it.

The honor for producing the first working GUI goes to Doug Englebart – at the time an employee of Stanford Research Institute. Englebart and colleagues created a program called the oNLine System in 1965-‘68. This program used the first mouse, a windowing system, and hypertext, and was based on a description of a system called “memex” proposed by Vannevar Bush in 1945. The name “mouse” comes from this period. The mouse used in oNLine had three buttons on one end and the line coming out the other end. Apparently, the buttons for eyes and nose, plus a cord for a tail, reminded the users of a mouse and the name stuck.

Years later, still in a time when nobody knew what the future of computers was to be, Xerox put together a team of researchers who did nothing more than put ideas together to see what they produced. The team, located at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, was convinced that Englebart’s model would work on computers available for individual work stations, and they produced two working models, the Alto and the Star. The Star was made available to the public, mouse and all, in 1981. But it was very expensive, and they sold only 25 thousand of them. But this was the first GUI-based OS available to the public.

The Star had many limitations. The name is for the OS, which was very powerful, and not the computer, which was not very powerful. The computer was unable to handle the demands of the OS with predictable results.

Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple, saw some of the potential in a GUI during tours of the Xerox facility. Some say that is where Jobs got his ideas for the GUI found on the Mac. Jobs did see some programming that contained GUI concepts, but the development team for the Lisa (and Bill Gates, by the way) saw the release of the Star. Both the development team and Bill Gates left with new visions for the future of the PC. The Lisa was retrofitted with a GUI OS before it was released and Microsoft began working on Windows. Like the Star, Lisa was a very expensive computer and few sold.

The Macintosh was released in 1984 as a relatively inexpensive alternative to Line Command Operating Systems, and the rest (as they say) is history. Next


What is an operating system?