Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Mind Behind Windows

I’ve been aware of this for decades now, but two coinciding events reminded me of it again. One was public, the other private. Steve Jobs passed away. And by chance/circumstance, Frederick Brooks’ The Mythical Man-Month fell into my hand once more and I was reading in it again. There, on page 260, in an addendum to the book that had come with the 1995 edition, came the reminder.

The man who actually invented the graphical user interface (GUI—Windows) was Douglas C. Engelbart (1925-). He also invented the tool indispensable for using Windows, the computer mouse. Engelbart unveiled the first demonstration in 1968 at the Western Joint Computer Conference. He and a team at Stanford Research Institute had produced the first GUI. His ideas were later developed by Bob Taylor and his team at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. That is where Steve Jobs saw the system demonstrated for the first time during a visit. He in turn succeeded in producing his own version, initially for the Apple Lisa which, per Brooks, was too slow to make most of it. Next Jobs introduced it on the Macintosh (1985), and, as people say, the rest is history. Microsoft simply had to have its own version of that. Enter Windows.

This, in a way, is a morality tale, a tale of “it takes many people,” a tale of creativity, of enterprise all rolled into one. The genuine creators are sometimes the least known. The noblest of them take that in stride and are content to have received the gifts that rain down from on high.

1 comment:

  1. I met Engelbart after a presentation he did at the Silicon Valley Users Group sometime in 1990.

    After the presentation on OS/2 of all things, I asked him what he expected would come after the Keyboard/Mouse as the next interface.

    He was nonplussed...

    Interestingly, he interfaces with his iPad using a "chorded" keyboard!