2024
July
12
2024
July
2024
July
12
2024
July
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
July
2024
July
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
July
12
2024
2024
2024
July

The Evolution of Graphical User Interfaces

 

Let's explore the fascinating journey of Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) from their inception in 1968 to the cutting-edge developments of today. This timeline highlights key milestones in the evolution of GUIs, including groundbreaking systems like the NLS (oN-Line System) and the Xerox Alto, which paved the way for modern computing interfaces, and the introduction of iconic products such as the Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, and iOS, which shaped the way users interact with technology. From the early experiments with graphical displays to the emergence of virtual reality interfaces like Apple Vision Pro, this timeline offers a glimpse into the evolution of GUIs and their profound impact on human-computer interaction.

Xerox Alto

After the invention of NLS, Xerox PARC developed the Alto personal computer. It had a portrait-oriented bitmapped screen, a keyboard, and a mouse. It featured Ethernet networking, and the ability to run multiple applications simultaneously. It was the first computer to demonstrate the desktop metaphor and graphical user interface (GUI). The Alto greatly influenced the design of personal computers during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Quantel Paintbox

The Quantel Paintbox was a a 24-bit, true colour, real time, broadcast quality graphics computer for composition of broadcast television video and graphics. Its user interface design was artist-oriented, emphasizing the studio workflow efficiency required for live news production. This model was also notable as one of the first systems with implementation of pop-up menus.

Apple Lisa

Lisa is a desktop computer developed by Apple. It is generally considered the first mass market personal computer with an interactive graphical user interface. Apple Lisa featured a high-resolution stationery-based (document-centric) graphical interface atop an advanced hard disk based OS. Drawing inspiration from the Xerox Alto particularly, it used the metaphors of a desktop, including things like folders, icons, and application windows that mimicked sheets of paper. Lisa also introduced intuitive direct manipulation, like the ability to drag and drop files, double-click to launch applications, and move or resize windows by clicking and dragging instead of going through a menu. However, due to its high price, insufficient software, and unreliability, Apple Lisa was considered a commercial failure.

SGI IRIS Series

The SGI IRIS (Integrated Raster Imaging System) series of terminals and workstations from Silicon Graphics was produced in the 1980s and 1990s. The first product was the IRIS 1000, a terminal with hardware-accelerated 3D graphics based on a Geometry Engine. This series also featured a serial-based keyboard/mouse protocol. Originally Users had to differentiate keyboards for different machines to ensure voltage compatibility. The IRIS protocol, daisy-chaining the mouse and keyboard, allowed users to easily distinguish machines by checking whether or not the mouse plugs into the keyboard.

A Personal IRIS 4D/25 with LCD monitor.

 

Workbench 1.0

Workbench is a desktop environment and graphical file manager of AmigaOS. The 1.x versions of Workbench used a blue-and-orange color scheme, designed to give high contrast on even the worst of television screens (the colors can be changed by the user). Users were free to create and modify system and user icons with arbitrary size and design. Icons could have two image states to produce a pseudo-animated effect when selected. Users could customize four display colors and choose from two resolutions: 640×200 or 640×400 (interlaced) on NTSC, or 640×256 or 640×512 on PAL systems. Right clicking on icons open a display of the files metadata. A default "busy" pointer was designed to be a comic balloon showing "Zzz...".

Workbench presented directories as drawers to fit in with the "workbench" theme.

 

Visi On

Visi On is an operating environment program developed by VisiCorp for IBM compatible personal computers. It was influential in the development of later GUIs like Microsoft Windows. It was fully mouse-driven, used a bit-mapped display for both text and graphics, included on-line help, and allowed the user to open a number of programs at once, each in its own window, and switch between them to multitask. Visi On did not, however, include a graphical file manager. One of Visi On's features was an hourglass cursor that indicated when the system was loading data from a disk. At the time, most software would display words on the screen like "busy" or "please wait" instead.

Learn more about Visi On's GUI Design

Macintosh

Compared with Apple Lisa, the more simplified and cheaper Macintosh was the first commercially successful product to use a multi-panel window interface, which used a program-centric design. A desktop metaphor was used, in which files looked like pieces of paper, file directories looked like file folders, there were a set of desk accessories like a calculator, notepad, and alarm clock that the user could place around the screen as desired, and the user could delete files and folders by dragging them to a trash-can icon on the screen. Users could also play games, write code, draw computer graphics, and customize mouse settings on this machine.

Several windows were opened.
Games were made for this platform.
Mouse settings panel.

X Window System

The X is a windowing system for bitmap displays, common on Unix-like operating systems. X provides the basic framework for a GUI environment: drawing and moving windows on the display device and interacting with a mouse and keyboard. X does not mandate the user interface – this is handled by individual programs. As such, the visual styling of X-based environments varies greatly; different programs may present radically different interfaces. A window manager controls the placement and appearance of application windows. This may result in desktop interfaces reminiscent of those of Microsoft Windows or of the Apple Macintosh.

Microsoft Windows 1.0

Windows 1.0 was the first major release of Microsoft Windows, a family of graphical operating systems for personal computers developed by Microsoft. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it failed to inspire -- especially when compared with the more user-friendly graphical user interface developed by Apple for the Macintosh. Critics felt Windows 1.0 did not meet their expectations. In particular, they felt that Windows 1.0 put too much emphasis on mouse input at a time when mouse use was not yet widespread; not providing enough resources for new users; and for performance issues, especially on systems with lower computer hardware specifications. Despite these criticisms, Windows 1.0 was an important milestone for Microsoft, as it introduced the Microsoft Windows line, and in computer history in general.

Apple IIGS

The Apple IIGS (styled as IIgs) is a 16-bit personal computer produced by Apple Computer. Similar to that of the Macintosh, the IIGS System Software provides a mouse-driven graphical user interface using concepts such as windows, menus, and icons. The IIGS has a Finder application very similar to the Macintosh's, which allows the user to manipulate files and launch applications. By default, the Finder is displayed when the computer starts up and whenever the user quits an application that is started from it, although the startup application can be changed by the user.

RISC OS

RISC OS was a computer operating system designed by Acorn Computers Ltd. Its interface incorporated three mouse buttons (named Select, Menu and Adjust), context-sensitive menus, window stack control (i.e. send to back) and dynamic window focus (a window can have input focus at any position on the stack). Inapplicable menu choices were 'greyed out' to make them unavailable. Menus have their own titles and may be moved around the desktop by the user. Any menu can have further sub-menus or a new window for complicated choices. Applications are run from the Filer view and files can be dragged to the Filer view from applications to perform saves. The opposite can perform a load. RISC OS was the first operating system to provide scalable anti-aliased fonts.

Microsoft Windows 2.0

Windows 2.0 was a successor to Windows 1.0. Unlike its predecessor, Windows 2.0 allowed users to overlap and resize application windows.

Microsoft Windows 3.0

Windows 3.0 featured a new 3D-look GUI where applications were represented as clickable icons, as opposed to the list of file names seen in its predecessors. Recorder is a new program that records macros, or sequences of keystrokes and mouse movements, which are then assigned to keys as shortcuts to perform complex functions quickly. Another notable program is Help. Unlike DOS applications, which may have help functions as part of them, Windows Help is a separate and readily accessible application that accompanies all Windows programs that support it.

Microsoft Windows 95

Windows 95 is a consumer-oriented operating system. It introduced numerous functions and features, such as the taskbar, notification area, and the "Start" button. Windows 95 saw the beginning of the browser wars, when the World Wide Web began receiving a great deal of attention in popular culture and mass media. Microsoft at first did not see potential in the Web, and Windows 95 was shipped with Microsoft's own online service called The Microsoft Network, which was dial-up only and was used primarily for its own content, not internet access. As versions of Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer were released at a rapid pace over the following few years, Microsoft used its desktop dominance to push its browser and shape the ecology of the web mainly as a monoculture.

Microsoft Windows 98

Windows 98 is web-integrated and bears numerous similarities to its predecessor. Most of its improvements were cosmetic or designed to improve the user experience, but there were also a handful of features introduced to enhance system functionality and capabilities, including improved USB support and accessibility, and support for hardware advancements such as DVD players. The Active Desktop theme was introduced, allowing an HTML approach for the desktop, but this feature was coldly received by customers, who frequently disabled it.

Mac OS X Series

The first version of Mac OS X, was a transitional product featuring an interface resembling the classic Mac OS. It used a technology known as Quartz, for graphics rendering and drawing on-screen. Some interface features were inherited from NeXTSTEP (such as the Dock, the automatic wait cursor, or double-buffered windows giving a solid appearance and flicker-free window redraws), while others are inherited from the old Mac OS operating system (the single system-wide menu-bar). Mac OS X 10.3 introduced features to improve usability including Exposé, which is designed to make finding open windows easier. With Mac OS X 10.4, new features were added, including Dashboard (a virtual alternate desktop for mini specific-purpose applications) and a search tool called Spotlight. Mac OS X 10.7 included support for full screen apps and Mac OS X 10.11 supported creating a full screen split view by pressing the green button on left upper corner of the window or Control+Cmd+F keyboard shortcut.

Mac OS X 1.0
Mac OS X 10.7

3D User Interface

 

In the first decade of the 21st century, the rapid development of GPUs led to a trend for the inclusion of 3D effects in window management. Common new effects are scale resizing and zooming, several windows transformations and animations (wobbly windows, smooth minimization to system tray...), composition of images (used for window drop shadows and transparency) and enhancing the global organization of open windows (zooming to virtual desktops, desktop cube, Exposé, etc.)

iOS

Until iOS, smartphones either didn't have a touchscreen or used a resistive touchscreen and a stylus. The iPhone changed that with its capacitive touchscreen, but more importantly Apple carefully wedded that new hardware capability to a new user interaction model that was simultaneously simpler and more powerful than systems that had come before it. Removing all physical buttons save 5, Apple made touch the primary interaction model. iOS 1.0 also introduced Apple's "Springboard" homescreen. Hitting the home button always brought you to it, no matter where you were in the OS, presenting the user with a simple (but not yet re-arrangeable) grid of icons.

Learn more about the history of iOS

Apple Vision Pro: Virtual Reality

 

The device uses a mix of AR and VR to produce visuals and is one of the only mainstream headsets to purely use hand-tracking and nothing else for controllers. Virtual Reality aims to provide users with presence, a perception of full immersion into a virtual environment. Currently, standard virtual reality systems generate some realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user's physical presence in a virtual environment. A person using virtual reality equipment is able to look around the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features or items.