The history of the graphical user interface, understood as the use of
graphic icons and a pointing device to control a computer, covers a
five-decade span of incremental refinements, built on some constant
core principles. Several vendors have created their own windowing
systems based on independent code, but with basic elements in common
that define the WIMP "window, icon, menu and pointing device"
There have been important technological achievements, and enhancements
to the general interaction in small steps over previous systems. There
same organizational metaphors and interaction idioms are still in use.
GUI operating systems are controlled by using a mouse,
the keyboard can also be used with keyboard shortcuts or arrow keys.
The interface developments described, below, have been summarized and
omit many details in the interest of brevity. The influence of game
computers and joystick operation has been omitted.
1 Early research and developments
1.1 Augmentation of Human Intellect (NLS)
1.4 Lisp machines, Symbolics
Apple Lisa and
Macintosh (and later, the Apple IIgs)
1.7 SGI 1000 series and MEX
Graphics Environment Manager
Graphics Environment Manager (GEM)
Amiga Intuition and the Workbench
BBC Master Compact
1.13 Arthur / RISC OS
1.13.2 Font manager
DOS file managers and utility suites
1.15 Applications under MS-
DOS with proprietary GUIs
Microsoft Windows (
1.18 The X Window System
2 The 1990s: Mainstream usage of the desktop
Windows 95 and "a computer in every home"
2.2 Mac OS
2.3 GUIs built on the X Window System
3 Current trends
3.1 Mobile devices
3.2 3D user interface
Virtual reality and presence
4 See also
6 External links
Early research and developments
The first prototype of a computer mouse, as designed by Bill English
from Engelbart's sketches
Videoconferencing on NLS (1968)
Early dynamic information devices such as radar displays, where input
devices were used for direct control of computer-created data, set the
basis for later improvements of graphical interfaces. Some early
cathode-ray-tube (CRT) screens used a light pen, rather than a mouse,
as the pointing device.
The concept of a multi-panel windowing system was introduced by the
first real-time graphic display systems for computers: the SAGE
Project and Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad.
Augmentation of Human Intellect (NLS)
In the 1960s, Douglas Engelbart's Augmentation of Human Intellect
project at the
Augmentation Research Center at
SRI International in
Menlo Park, California
Menlo Park, California developed the oN-Line System (NLS). This
computer incorporated a mouse-driven cursor and multiple windows used
to work on hypertext. Engelbart had been inspired, in part, by the
memex desk-based information machine suggested by
Vannevar Bush in
Much of the early research was based on how young children learn. So,
the design was based on the childlike primitives of eye-hand
coordination, rather than use of command languages, user-defined macro
procedures, or automated transformations of data as later used by
Xerox Star workstation introduced the first commercial
Engelbart's work directly led to the advances at
Xerox PARC. Several
people went from SRI to
Xerox PARC in the early 1970s. In 1973, Xerox
PARC developed the Alto personal computer. It had a bitmapped screen,
and was the first computer to demonstrate the desktop metaphor and
graphical user interface (GUI). It was not a commercial product, but
several thousand units were built and were heavily used at PARC, as
well as other XEROX offices, and at several universities for many
years. The Alto greatly influenced the design of personal computers
during the late 1970s and early 1980s, notably the Three Rivers PERQ,
Apple Lisa and Macintosh, and the first Sun workstations.
The interim Dynabook environment desktop (1976; aka Smalltalk-76
running on Alto).
GUI was first developed at
Xerox PARC by Alan Kay, Larry Tesler,
Dan Ingalls, David Smith, Clarence Ellis and a number of other
researchers. It used windows, icons, and menus (including the first
fixed drop-down menu) to support commands such as opening files,
deleting files, moving files, etc. In 1974, work began at PARC on
Gypsy, the first bitmap What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) cut
& paste editor. In 1975,
Xerox engineers demonstrated a Graphical
User Interface "including icons and the first use of pop-up menus".
Xerox introduced a pioneering product, Star, a workstation
incorporating many of PARC's innovations. Although not commercially
successful, Star greatly influenced future developments, for example
Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
Xerox Alto had an early graphical user interface.
Xerox Alto (and later
Xerox Star) was an early personal computer
Xerox PARC in 1973. It was the first computer to use the
desktop metaphor and mouse-driven graphical user interface (GUI).
The Alto, unlike Star, was not a commercial product, but several
thousand units were built and were heavily used at PARC, other Xerox
facilities, at least one government facility and at several
universities for many years. The Alto greatly influenced the design of
some personal computers in the following decades, notably the Apple
Macintosh and the first Sun workstations.
The Blit, a graphics terminal, was developed at Bell Labs in 1982.
Lisp machines, Symbolics
Lisp machines originally developed at
MIT and later commercialized by
Symbolics and other manufacturers, were early high-end single user
computer workstations with advanced graphical user interfaces,
windowing, and mouse as an input device. First workstations from
Symbolics came to market in 1981, with more advanced designs in the
Apple Lisa and
Macintosh (and later, the Apple IIgs)
Main article: Classic Mac OS
Macintosh Desktop (1984).
Apple GS/OS desktop (1986).
Beginning in 1979, started by
Steve Jobs and led by Jef Raskin, the
Apple Lisa and
Macintosh teams at Apple
Computer (which included
former members of the
Xerox PARC group) continued to develop such
ideas. The Lisa, released in 1983, featured a high-resolution
stationery-based (document-centric) graphical interface atop an
advanced hard disk based OS that featured such things as preemptive
multitasking and graphically oriented inter-process communication. The
comparatively simplified Macintosh, released in 1984 and designed to
be lower in cost, was the first commercially successful product to use
a multi-panel window interface. 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. The Macintosh, in contrast to
the Lisa, used a program-centric rather than document-centric design.
Apple revisited the document-centric design, in a limited manner, much
later with OpenDoc.
There is still some controversy over the amount of influence that
Xerox's PARC work, as opposed to previous academic research, had on
the GUIs of the
Apple Lisa and Macintosh, but it is clear that the
influence was extensive, because first versions of Lisa GUIs even
lacked icons. These prototype GUIs are at least mouse-driven,
but completely ignored the WIMP ( "window, icon, menu, pointing
device") concept. Screenshots of first GUIs of
Apple Lisa prototypes
show the early designs. Note also that Apple engineers visited the
PARC facilities (Apple secured the rights for the visit by
Xerox with a pre-IPO purchase of Apple stock) and a
number of PARC employees subsequently moved to Apple to work on the
Macintosh GUI. However, the Apple work extended PARC's
considerably, adding manipulatable icons, and drag and drop
manipulation of objects in the file system (see
Macintosh Finder) for
example. A list of the improvements made by Apple, beyond the PARC
interface, can be read at Folklore.org.
Jef Raskin warns that many
of the reported facts in the history of the PARC and Macintosh
development are inaccurate, distorted or even fabricated, due to the
lack of usage by historians of direct primary sources.
In 1984, Apple released a television commercial which introduced the
Apple Macintosh during the telecast of
Super Bowl XVIII
Super Bowl XVIII by CBS,
with allusions to George Orwell's noted novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
The commercial was aimed at making people think about computers,
identifying the user-friendly interface as a personal computer which
departed from previous business-oriented systems, and becoming a
signature representation of Apple products.
In 1986, the Apple IIgs was launched. The IIgs was a very advanced
model of the successful
Apple II series, based on
(in fact, virtually two machines into one). It came with a new
operating system, the Apple GS/OS, which features a Finder-like GUI,
very similar to that of the
Macintosh series, able to deal with the
advanced graphic abilities of its Video Graphics Chip (VGC).
Released in 1983, the Soviet Union Agat PC featured a graphical
interface and a mouse device.
SGI 1000 series and MEX
Founded 1982, SGI introduced the IRIS 1000 Series in 1983. The
first graphical terminals (IRIS 1000) shipped in late 1983, and the
corresponding workstation model (IRIS 1400) was released in mid-1984.
The machines used an early version of the MEX windowing system on top
of the GL2 Release 1 operating environment. Examples of the MEX
user interface can be seen in a 1988 article in the journal "Computer
Graphics", while earlier screenshots can not be found. The first
commercial GUI-based systems, these did not find widespread use as to
their (discounted) academic list price of $22,500 and $35,700 for the
IRIS 1000 and IRIS 1400, respectively. However, these systems were
commercially successful enough to start SGI's business as one of the
main graphical workstation vendors. In later revisions of graphical
workstations, SGI switched to the X window system, which had been
developed starting at
MIT since 1984 and which became the standard for
Graphics Environment Manager
Graphics Environment Manager (GEM)
Main article: Graphics Environment Manager
Digital Research (DRI) created the
Graphics Environment Manager
Graphics Environment Manager (GEM)
as an add-on program for personal computers. GEM was developed to work
DOS operating systems on business computers
IBM PC compatibles. It was developed from DRI software, known
as GSX, designed by a former PARC employee. The similarity to the
Macintosh desktop led to a copyright lawsuit from Apple Computer, and
a settlement which involved some changes to GEM. This was to be the
first of a series of 'look and feel' lawsuits related to
GUI design in
GEM on the
Atari ST (1985)
GEM received widespread use in the consumer market from 1985, when it
was made the default user interface built into the
Atari TOS operating
system of the
Atari ST line of personal computers. It was also bundled
by other computer manufacturers and distributors, such as Amstrad.
Later, it was distributed with the best-sold
Digital Research version
IBM PC compatibles, the DR-
DOS 6.0. The GEM desktop faded
from the market with the withdrawal of the
Atari ST line in 1992 and
with the popularity of the
Windows 3.0 in the PC front
around the same period of time. The Falcon030, released in 1993 was
the last computer from Atari to use GEM.
DeskMate 3.02 running in VGA mode
Main article: DeskMate
DeskMate appeared in the early 1980s on its
and was ported to its
Tandy 1000 range in 1984. Like most PC GUIs of
the time, it depended on a disk operating system such as TRS
MS-DOS. The application was popular at the time and included a number
of programs like Draw, Text and Calendar, as well as attracting
outside investment such as
Lotus 1-2-3 for DeskMate.
MSX-View running VShell
Main article: MSX-View
MSX-View was developed for
MSX computers by
ASCII Corporation and HAL
Laboratory. MSX-View contains software such as Page Edit, Page View,
Page Link, VShell, VTed, VPaint and VDraw. An external version of the
MSX View of the Panasonic FS-A1GT was released as an add-on
for the Panasonic FS-A1ST on disk instead of 512 kB ROM DISK.
Amiga Intuition and the Workbench
Amiga computer was launched by Commodore in 1985 with a
Workbench was based on an internal engine developed mostly
by RJ Mical, called Intuition, which drove all the input events. The
first versions used a blue/orange/white/black default palette, which
was selected for high contrast on televisions and composite monitors.
Workbench presented directories as drawers to fit in with the
"workbench" theme. Intuition was the widget and graphics library that
GUI work. It was driven by user events through the mouse,
keyboard, and other input devices.
Due to a mistake made by the Commodore sales department, the first
AmigaOS (released with the Amiga1000) named the whole OS
"Workbench". Since then, users and CBM itself referred to "Workbench"
as the nickname for the whole
Amiga DOS, Extras,
etc.). This common consent ended with release of version 2.0 of
AmigaOS, which re-introduced proper names to the installation floppies
of AmigaDOS, Workbench, Extras, etc.
AmigaOS treated the
Workbench as a
backdrop, borderless window sitting atop a blank screen. With the
AmigaOS 2.0, however, the user was free to select
whether the main
Workbench window appeared as a normally layered
window, complete with a border and scrollbars, through a menu item.
Amiga users were able to boot their computer into a command-line
interface (also known as the CLI or
Amiga Shell). This was a
keyboard-based environment without the
Workbench GUI. Later they could
invoke it with the CLI/SHELL command "LoadWB" which loaded Workbench
One major difference between other OS's of the time (and for some time
after) was the Amiga's fully multi-tasking operating system, a
powerful built-in animation system using a hardware blitter and copper
and 4 channels of 26 kHz
8-bit sampled sound. This made the Amiga
the first multi-media computer years before other OS's.
Like most GUIs of the day, Amiga's Intuition followed Xerox's, and
sometimes Apple's, lead. But a CLI was included which dramatically
extended the functionality of the platform. However, the CLI/Shell of
Amiga is not just a simple text-based interface like in MS-DOS, but
another graphic process driven by Intuition, and with the same gadgets
included in Amiga's graphics.library. The CLI/Shell interface
integrates itself with the Workbench, sharing privileges with the GUI.
Workbench evolved over the 1990s, even after Commodore's
BBC Master Compact
The Master Compact GUI
Main article: BBC Master
BBC Master Compact shipped with Acorn's first public GUI
interface in 1986. Little commercial software, beyond that
included on the Welcome disk, was ever made available for the system,
despite the claim by Acorn at the time that "the major software houses
have worked with Acorn to make over 100 titles available on
compilation discs at launch". The most avid supporter of the
Master Compact appeared to be Superior Software, who produced and
specifically labelled their games as 'Master Compact' compatible.
Arthur / RISC OS
Main article: RISC OS
RISC OS /rɪskoʊˈɛs/ is a series of graphical user
interface-based computer operating systems (OSes) designed for ARM
architecture systems. It takes its name from the RISC (Reduced
Instruction Set Computing) architecture supported. The OS was
originally developed by
Acorn Computers for use with their 1987 range
of Archimedes personal computers using the Acorn RISC Machine
processors. It comprises a command-line interface and desktop
environment with a windowing system.
Originally branded as the Arthur 1.20 the subsequent Arthur 2 release
was shipped under the name
RISC OS 2.
RISC OS 3.7 session
The WIMP interface incorporates three mouse buttons (named Select,
Menu and Adjust), context-sensitive menus, window order control (i.e.
send to back) and dynamic window focus (a window can have input focus
at any position on the stack). The
Icon bar (Dock) holds icons which
represent mounted disc drives, RAM discs, running applications, system
utilities and docked: Files, Directories or inactive Applications.
These icons have context-sensitive menus and support drag-and-drop
behaviour. They represent the running application as a whole,
irrespective of whether it has open windows.
GUI is centred around the concept of files. The Filer displays the
contents of a disc. Applications are run from the Filer view and files
can be dragged to the Filer view from applications to perform saves.
Application directories are used to store applications. The OS
differentiates them from normal directories through the use of a pling
(exclamation mark, also called shriek) prefix. Double-clicking on such
a directory launches the application rather than opening the
directory. The application's executable files and resources are
contained within the directory, but normally they remain hidden from
the user. Because applications are self-contained, this allows
drag-and-drop installation and removal.
RISC OS Style Guide encourages a consistent look and feel across
applications. This was introduced in
RISC OS 3 and specifies
application appearance and behaviour. Acorn's own main bundled
applications were not updated to comply with the guide until RISCOS
Ltd's Select release in 2001.
The outline fonts manager provides spatial anti-aliasing of fonts, the
OS being the first operating system to include such a
feature, having included it since before January
1989. Since 1994, in
RISC OS 3.5, it has been possible to use an
outline anti-aliased font in the WindowManager for UI elements, rather
than the bitmap system font from previous versions.
DOS file managers and utility suites
Norton Utilities 6.01 (1991). Note the graphical widgets and the arrow
pointer in text mode.
Because most of the very early
IBM PC and compatibles lacked any
common true graphical capability (they used the 80-column basic text
mode compatible with the original MDA display adapter), a series of
file managers arose, including Microsoft's
DOS Shell, which features
GUI elements as menus, push buttons, lists with scrollbars and
mouse pointer. The name text-based user interface was later invented
to name this kind of interface. Many MS-
DOS text mode applications,
like the default text editor for MS-
DOS 5.0 (and related tools, like
QBasic), also used the same philosophy. The IBM
DOS Shell included
DOS 5.0 (circa 1992) supported both text display modes and
actual graphics display modes, making it both a TUI and a GUI,
depending on the chosen mode.
Advanced file managers for MS-
DOS were able to redefine character
shapes with EGA and better display adapters, giving some basic low
resolution icons and graphical interface elements, including an arrow
(instead of a coloured cell block) for the mouse pointer. When the
display adapter lacks the ability to change the character's shapes,
they default to the CP437 character set found in the adapter's ROM.
Some popular utility suites for MS-DOS, as
Norton Utilities (pictured)
and PC Tools used these techniques as well.
DESQview was a text mode multitasking program introduced in July 1985.
Running on top of MS-DOS, it allowed users to run multiple DOS
programs concurrently in windows. It was the first program to bring
multitasking and windowing capabilities to a
DOS environment in which
DOS programs could be used.
DESQview was not a true
offered certain components of one, such as resizable, overlapping
windows and mouse pointing.
Applications under MS-
DOS with proprietary GUIs
DeluxePaint II for MS-
Before the MS-Windows age, and with the lack of a true common GUI
under MS-DOS, most graphical applications which worked with EGA, VGA
and better graphic cards had proprietary built-in GUIs. One of the
best known such graphical applications was Deluxe Paint, a popular
painting software with a typical WIMP interface.
Adobe Acrobat Reader executable file for MS-
DOS was able
to run on both the standard Windows 3.x
GUI and the standard DOS
command prompt. When it was launched from the command prompt, on a
machine with a VGA graphics card, it provided its own GUI.
Microsoft Windows (
Windows 1.01 (1985)
See also: History of
Windows 1.0, a
GUI for the MS-
DOS operating system was released in
1985. The market's response was less than stellar. Windows 2.0
followed, but it wasn't until the 1990 launch of Windows 3.0, based on
Common User Access that its popularity truly exploded. The
seen minor redesigns since, mainly the networking enabled Windows 3.11
32-bit patch. The
16-bit line of MS Windows were
discontinued with the introduction of
Windows 95 and
Windows NT 32-bit
based architecture in the 1990s. See the next section.
Windows 3.11 (1993)
The main window of a given application can occupy the full screen in
maximized status. The users must then to switch between maximized
applications using the Alt+Tab keyboard shortcut; no alternative with
the mouse except for de-maximize. When none of the running application
windows are maximized, switching can be done by clicking on a
partially visible window, as is the common way in other GUIs.
In 1988, Apple sued
Microsoft for copyright infringement of the LISA
Apple Macintosh GUI. The court case lasted 4 years before almost
all of Apple's claims were denied on a contractual technicality.
Subsequent appeals by Apple were also denied.
Microsoft and Apple
apparently entered a final, private settlement of the matter in 1997.
GEOS for the
Commodore 64 (1986).
Main article: GEOS (
8-bit operating system)
GEOS was launched in 1986. Originally written for the
Commodore 64 and shortly after, the
Apple II series. The name
was later used by the company as PC/Geos for
IBM PC systems, then
Geoworks Ensemble. It came with several application programs like a
calendar and word processor, and a cut-down version served as the
basis for America Online's
DOS client. Compared to the competing
GUI it could run reasonably well on simpler hardware, but
its developer had a restrictive policy towards third-party developers
that prevented it from becoming a serious competitor. And it was
8-bit machines and the
16-bit computer age was dawning.
The X Window System
Main article: X Window System
X Window System
X Window System desktop (circa 1990).
The standard windowing system in the
Unix world is the X Window System
(commonly X11 or X), first released in the mid-1980s. The W Window
System (1983) was the precursor to X; X was developed at
Project Athena. Its original purpose was to allow users of the newly
emerging graphic terminals to access remote graphics workstations
without regard to the workstation's operating system or the hardware.
Due largely to the availability of the source code used to write X, it
has become the standard layer for management of graphical and
input/output devices and for the building of both local and remote
graphical interfaces on virtually all Unix,
Linux and other Unix-like
operating systems, with the notable exceptions of macOS and Android.
X allows a graphical terminal user to make use of remote resources on
the network as if they were all located locally to the user by running
a single module of software called the X server. The software running
on the remote machine is called the client application. X's network
transparency protocols allow the display and input portions of any
application to be separated from the remainder of the application and
'served up' to any of a large number of remote users. X is available
today as free software.
Main article: NeWS
HyperTIES authoring tool under
NeWS window system.
NeWS (Network extensible Window System) was
Sun Microsystems in the mid-1980s. For several years
SunOS included a window system combining
NeWS and the X Window System.
NeWS was considered technically elegant by some commentators,
Sun eventually dropped the product. Unlike X,
NeWS was always
The 1990s: Mainstream usage of the desktop
The widespread adoption of the PC platform in homes and small
businesses popularized computers among people with no formal training.
This created a fast-growing market, opening an opportunity for
commercial exploitation and of easy-to-use interfaces and making
economically viable the incremental refinement of the existing GUIs
for home systems.
Also, the spreading of
True Color capabilities of
display adapters providing thousands and millions of colors, along
with faster CPUs and accelerated graphic cards, cheaper RAM, storage
devices orders of magnitude larger (from megabytes to gigabytes) and
larger bandwidth for telecom networking at lower cost helped to create
an environment in which the common user was able to run complicated
GUIs which began to favor aesthetics.
Windows 95 and "a computer in every home"
Windows 95 desktop (1995).
Windows 95 and Windows NT
After Windows 3.11,
Microsoft began to develop a new consumer-oriented
version of the operating system.
Windows 95 was intended to integrate
Microsoft's formerly separate MS-
DOS and Windows products and included
an enhanced version of DOS, often referred to as MS-
DOS 7.0. It also
featured a significant redesign of the GUI, dubbed "Cairo". While
Cairo never really materialized, parts of Cairo found their way into
subsequent versions of the operating system starting with Windows 95.
Both Win95 and WinNT could run
32-bit applications, and could exploit
the abilities of the
Intel 80386 CPU, as the preemptive multitasking
and up to 4 GiB of linear address memory space.
Windows 95 was
touted as a
32-bit based operating system but it was actually based on
a hybrid kernel (VWIN32.VXD) with the
16-bit user interface (USER.EXE)
and graphic device interface (GDI.EXE) of Windows for Workgroups
(3.11), which had
16-bit kernel components with a
(USER32.DLL and GDI32.DLL) that allowed it to run native 16-bit
applications as well as
32-bit applications. In the marketplace,
Windows 95 was an unqualified success, promoting a general upgrade to
32-bit technology, and within a year or two of its release had become
the most successful operating system ever produced.
Accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign,
Windows 95 was a
major success in the marketplace at launch and shortly became the most
popular desktop operating system.
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
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
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.
Windows 95 evolved through the years into
Windows 98 and Windows ME.
Windows ME was the last in the line of the Windows 3.x-based operating
systems from Microsoft. Windows underwent a parallel 32-bit
evolutionary path, where
Windows NT 3.1 was released in 1993. Windows
NT (for New Technology) was a native
32-bit operating system with
a new driver model, was unicode-based, and provided for true
separation between applications.
Windows NT also supported 16-bit
applications in an NTVDM, but it did not support VxD based drivers.
Windows 95 was supposed to be released before 1993 as the predecessor
to Windows NT. The idea was to promote the development of 32-bit
applications with backward compatibility – leading the way for more
successful NT release. After multiple delays,
Windows 95 was released
without unicode and used the VxD driver model.
Windows NT 3.1 evolved
Windows NT 3.5, 3.51 and then 4.0 when it finally shared a similar
interface with its Windows 9x desktop counterpart and included a Start
button. The evolution continued with Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows
Vista, then Windows 7. Windows XP and higher were also made available
in 64-bit modes. Windows server products branched off with the
introduction of Windows Server 2003 (available in
32-bit and 64-bit
IA64 or x64), then Windows Server 2008 and then Windows Server 2008
R2. Windows 2000 and XP shared the same basic
GUI although XP
introduced Visual Styles. With Windows 98, 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.
At the end,
Windows Vista definitively discontinued it, but put a new
SideBar on the desktop.
Screenshot of System 7.5.3
GUI has been revised multiple times since 1984, with
major updates including System 7 and Mac OS 8. It underwent its
largest revision to date with the introduction of the "Aqua" interface
in 2001's Mac OS X. It was a new operating system built primarily on
NeXTStep with UI elements of the original Mac OS
grafted on. macOS uses a technology known as Quartz, for graphics
rendering and drawing on-screen. Some interface features of macOS are
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 released in April 2005, new features were
added, including Dashboard (a virtual alternate desktop for mini
specific-purpose applications) and a search tool called Spotlight,
which provides users with an option for searching through files
instead of browsing through folders.
With Mac OS X 10.7 released in July 2011, included support for
full-screen apps and Mac OS X 10.11 released in September 2015 support
creating a full-screen split view by pressing the green button on left
upper corner of the window or Control+Cmd+F keyboard shortcut.
GUIs built on the X Window System
KDE Plasma 4.4 desktop (2010)
GNOME 2.28 desktop (2010)
In the early days of X Window development,
Sun Microsystems and
AT&T attempted to push for a
GUI standard called
OPEN LOOK in
competition with Motif.
OPEN LOOK was developed from
scratch in conjunction with Xerox, while Motif was a collective effort
that fell into place, with a look and feel patterned after Windows
3.11. Motif prevailed in the UNIX
GUI battles and
became the basis for the
Common Desktop Environment
Common Desktop Environment (CDE). CDE was
Visual User Environment
Visual User Environment (VUE), a proprietary desktop from
Hewlett-Packard that in turn was based on the Motif look and feel.
In the late 1990s, there was significant growth in the
especially among the free software community. New graphical desktop
movements grew up around
Linux and similar operating systems, based on
the X Window System. A new emphasis on providing an integrated and
uniform interface to the user brought about new desktop environments,
such as KDE Plasma 5,
Xfce which have supplanted CDE in
popularity on both
Unix-like operating systems. The Xfce, KDE
GNOME look and feel each tend to undergo more rapid change and
less codification than the earlier
OPEN LOOK and Motif environments.
Workbench 2.0 (1990)
Workbench 4.1 (2009)
Later releases added improvements over the original Workbench, like
support for high-color
Workbench screens, context menus, and embossed
2D icons with pseudo-3D aspect. Some
Amiga users preferred alternative
interfaces to standard Workbench, such as
Directory Opus Magellan.
The use of improved, third-party
GUI engines became common amongst
users who preferred more attractive interfaces – such as Magic User
Interface (MUI), and ReAction. These object-oriented graphic engines
driven by user interface classes and methods were then standardized
Amiga environment and changed
Workbench to a complete
and modern guided interface, with new standard gadgets, animated
buttons, true 24-bit-color icons, increased use of wallpapers for
screens and windows, alpha channel, transparencies and shadows as any
Modern derivatives of
Workbench are Ambient for MorphOS, Scalos,
AmigaOS 4 and Wanderer for AROS. There is a brief
article on Ambient and descriptions of MUI icons, menus and gadgets at
aps.fr and images of Zune stay at main
Use of object oriented graphic engines dramatically changes the look
and feel of a
GUI to match actual styleguides.
OS/2 Workplace Shell
Originally collaboratively developed by
Microsoft and IBM to replace
OS/2 version 1.0 (released in 1987) had no
GUI at all. Version
1.1 (released 1988) included Presentation Manager (PM), an
implementation of IBM Common User Access, which looked a lot like the
later Windows 3.1 UI. After the split with Microsoft, IBM developed
Workplace Shell (WPS) for version 2.0 (released in 1992), a quite
radical, object-oriented approach to GUIs.
Microsoft later imitated
much of this look in Windows 95.
NeXTStep 3.x running NetHack, help and more apps.
The NeXTSTEP user interface was used in the
NeXT line of computers.
NeXTSTEP's first major version was released in 1989. It used Display
PostScript for its graphical underpinning. The NeXTSTEP interface's
most significant feature was the Dock, carried with some modification
into Mac OS X, and had other minor interface details that some found
made it easier and more intuitive to use than previous GUIs.
GUI was the first to feature opaque dragging of windows in
its user interface, on a comparatively weak machine by today's
standards, ideally aided by high performance graphics hardware.
BeOS was developed on custom AT&T Hobbit-based computers before
PowerPC hardware by a team led by former Apple executive
Jean-Louis Gassée as an alternative to Mac OS.
BeOS was later ported
to Intel hardware. It used an object-oriented kernel written by Be,
and did not use the X Window System, but a different
GUI written from
scratch. Much effort was spent by the developers to make it an
efficient platform for multimedia applications. Be Inc. was acquired
PalmSource, Inc. (Palm Inc. at the time) in 2001. The
still lives in Haiku, an open source software reimplementation of the
In 2007 with the iPhone and later in 2010 with the introduction of
the iPad, Apple popularized the post-WIMP style of interaction for
multi-touch screens, with those devices considered to be milestones in
the development of mobile devices.
Other portable devices such as
MP3 players and cell phones have been a
burgeoning area of deployment for GUIs in recent years. Since the
mid-2000s, a vast majority of portable devices have advanced to having
high-screen resolutions and sizes. (The Galaxy Note 4's 2,560 × 1,440
pixel display is an example). Because of this, these devices have
their own famed user interfaces and operating systems that have large
homebrew communities dedicated to creating their own visual elements,
such as icons, menus, wallpapers, and more.
Post-WIMP interfaces are
often used in these mobile devices, where the traditional pointing
devices required by the desktop metaphor are not practical.
As high-powered graphics hardware draws considerable power and
generates significant heat, many of the 3D effects developed between
2000 and 2010 are not practical on this class of device. This has led
to the development of simpler interfaces making a design feature of
two dimensionality such as exhibited by the Metro (Modern) UI first
Windows 8 and the 2012
needed][dubious – discuss]
3D user interface
Main article: 3D interaction
Compiz running on Fedora Core 6 with AIGLX.
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.
It is based in experimental research in User
Interface Design trying to expand the expressive power of the existing
toolkits in order to enhance the physical cues that allow for direct
manipulation. New effects common to several projects 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.) The proof-of-concept BumpTop
desktop combines a physical representation of documents with tools for
document classification possible only in the simulated environment,
like instant reordering and automated grouping of related documents.
These effects are popularized thanks to the widespread use of 3D video
cards (mainly due to gaming) which allow for complex visual processing
CPU use, using the 3D acceleration in most modern graphics
cards to render the application clients in a 3D scene. The application
window is drawn off-screen in a pixel buffer, and the graphics card
renders it into the 3D scene.
This can have the advantage of moving some of the window rendering to
GPU on the graphics card and thus reducing the load on the main
CPU, but the facilities that allow this must be available on the
graphics card to be able to take advantage of this.
Examples of 3D user-interface software include
AIGLX bundled with
Red Hat Fedora.
Quartz Extreme for
Windows 7 and Vista's Aero interface use 3D rendering for
shading and transparency effects as well as Exposé and Windows Flip
and Flip 3D, respectively.
Windows Vista uses
Direct3D to accomplish
this, whereas the other interfaces use OpenGL.
Virtual reality and presence
See also: Head-up display
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (March
Virtual reality devices such as the
Oculus Rift and Sony's PlayStation
VR (formerly Project Morpheus) aim to provide users with presence,
a perception of full immersion into a virtual environment.
The Blit (graphics terminal by Rob Pike, 1982)
Direct manipulation interface
Doug Engelbart's On-Line System
Graphical user interface
Text-based user interface
History of computing
History of computing hardware
History of computer icons
Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad
Office of the future
tiling window manager
Macro command language
Apple v. Microsoft
IBM Common User Access
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[ArcDraw] can also add text in multiple sizes and fonts to a drawing
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Acorn Computers Support Group Application Notice 253 – New
RISC OS version 3.5
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Oral history interview with Marvin L. Minsky, Charles Babbage
Institute, University of Minnesota. Minsky describes artificial
intelligence (AI) research at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT), including research in the areas of graphics, word
processing, and time-sharing.
Oral history interview with Ivan Sutherland, Charles Babbage
Institute, University of Minnesota. Sutherland describes his tenure as
head of ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) from
1963 to 1965, including new projects in graphics and networking.
Oral history interview with Charles A. Csuri, Charles Babbage
Institute, University of Minnesota. Csuri recounts his art education
and explains his transition to computer graphics in the mid-1960s,
after receiving a National Science Foundation grant for research in
GUIdebook: Graphical User Interface gallery
VisiOn history – The first
GUI for the PC
mprove: Historical Overview of Graphical User Interfaces
Anecdotes about the development of the