Precursors of the Macintosh Human Interface

The idea of a virtual "desktop" with overlapping "windows" and "objects" that can be manipulated developed over dozens of years. Below is some of the work that influenced the Macintosh's interface design philosophy.

Memex (1945)  Computer engineering pioneer Vannevar Bush proposed Memex, a "mechanized private file and library" for personal use. Proposal included graphic manipulation and linking of microfilm documents using levers, stylus, buttons, etc.

Sketchpad (1960s)  Ivan Sutherland's system for creating and manipulating graphical figures on a display using a light pen. Idea of direct manipulation of on-screen objects.

NLS (1960s)  Douglas Engelbart and the Stanford Research Institute developed a system called NLS (On-Line System) which used a full-screen graphical (rather than textual) interface. First use of the mouse as a pointing device.

Smalltalk (1970s)  Alan Kay, a founding member of the Palo Alto Research Center (formed in 1970 to develop office systems technology for Xerox), developed the Smalltalk programming environment. Introduced overlapping windows (paper-on-desk metaphor), modelessness, pop-up menus, WYSIWYG, selecting objects by clicking or dragging, the select-then-command method, undoability, scroll bars, and cut/copy/paste.

Xerox Star (released 1981)  The PARC group's prototypes developed into the Star system. Development included studying user's goals through "task analysis," early decisions about functional metaphors (e.g. using "documents" and "mail" instead of "files" and "messages"), and extensive prototyping. Did not sell well, but set new standards for consistency of interface across software (all software was bundled), and icon-based desktop manager directly influenced developers at Apple.

Apple Lisa (released 1983)  After stealing many ideas and personnel from PARC, this project introduced the menu bar, pull-down menus, the one-button mouse, the Clipboard, the Trash can, drag-able icons, and opening objects by double-clicking.

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Johnson, J., Roberts, T. L., Verplank, W., Smith, D., Irby, C. H., Beard, M., & Mackey, K. (1989, September). "The Xerox Star: A retrospective." Computer, 22 (9), 11-28.

Nyce, J. M. and Kahn, P. (eds.). (1991). From memex to hypertext: Vannevar Bush and the mind's machine. San Diego: Academic Press.

Smith, D. C., Irby, C., Kimball, R., Verplank, W., & Harslem, E. (1982, April). Designing the Star user interface. BYTE, 7 (4), 242-282.

Tessler, Larry. (1985, September). The legacy of the Lisa. MacWorld, 17-22.

Tessler, Larry. (1981, August). The Smalltalk environment. BYTE 6 (8), 90-116.

Prepared for ED626 Class September 23, 1996 by Jeff Kupperman & Alex Sergay