21 November 2006

Graphical User Interface

A graphical user interface (GUI) is one in which the user has basic commands displayed graphically, and inputs choices using a pointing device like a mouse. The GUI was mainly pioneered with the Apple Macintosh in 1984, although the Mac OS was certainly not the first GUI ever developed.

Originally, the purpose of the GUI was to make it easy for non-specialists to use computers, and in this respect I would have to say it was quite successful. The basic method was to use visual analogies to creating a directory (represented as a manila file folder), opening a file (represented as a dogeared sheet of paper), or deleting a file (by putting in a trashcan). It was now possible to not only have two files open at the same time, but also visible (as overlapping "windows") .

Screencapture of eComStation (the contemporary version of IBM OS2)

However, the functionality also expanded. It was now a lot easier to move among multiple applications and documents.

Screencapture of Paint.Net (click for larger image)

The title bar of this blog was created using the application shown above, and I shudder to imagine how I would have done it without the ability to, for example, select colors using a mouse, or eyeball the various possible gradations of transparency between the layers being blended. Naturally, other forms of data processing can be made more efficient using graphical analogues—not merely easier to learn how to do.

A final twist to this: GUI application environments like the familiar MS Windows are often used to display command line environments (CLI). In some cases, users of operating systems like Unix will have different shells open in X Windows (a GUI layer available for Unix). Shells, of course, are used for typing commands.
SPECIMENS: For illustrating this concept, I mention a few examples:
  • Xerox Alto (pioneer; developed in 1973)
  • Mac OS (introduced in '84; integral to operating system)
  • IBM & MS OS/2 (conceived as GUI+OS successor to DOS)
  • MS Windows (introduced in 1985 as a GUI add-on to DOS)
  • Amiga OS (a GUI/OS used by the Commodore Amiga)
  • X Windows (a standard Unix GUI layer)
  • NextStep (a GUI/OS used by NeXT)
  • DecWindows (a GUI layer [seldom] used for OpenVMS)
  • BeOS (a GUI/OS used by BeBox)
  • Solaris (a GUI layer for Sun Microsystems)
  • IRIX (a GUI/OS used by Silicon Graphics)
  • GNOME (a GUI layer for GNU & Unix)
This list is not at all complete; I just couldn't be bothered to mention NewWave, DESQview, Deskmate, or Lisa.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: I really appreciated Nathan Lineback's site devoted to GUI's. It appears we agree on many things...

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