Let’s start with the computer desktop. Who first developed a window-based graphical interface?
The word ‘windows’ might be a red herring here, because the answer isn’t Microsoft – not by a long shot. With 1984’s Macintosh, Apple itself beats Windows 1.0 (released in 1985), but we have to go back to the previous decade for the answer to this riddle.
Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) designed the first graphical user interface (or GUI) in the 1970s. Three years later, Xerox PARC developed the Alto computer, the first device to use a GUI.
GUI is a system of interaction between humans and computers that uses windows, icons and pointing devices. It was a remarkable invention, replacing the archaic and complicated textual interface of the earliest computers; at a stroke, using computers became faster and more intuitive.
The first innovator was Douglas Engelbart at Stanford Research Institute. In 1968 he gave the first public presentation of windows, introducing a machine with hyperlinked text, keyboard, function keypad and mouse-driven cursor. Engelbart’s innovations were then used at Xerox PARC, to which many of his team moved.
In 1973, the company developed the Alto computer. It displayed bitmaps; everything in it was an icon which corresponded to a specific bit of information. Icons displayed office stuff, such as printed documents. By clicking over one of them, a signal was implemented.
The Apple connection: In 1979, Steve Jobs visited Xerox’s headquarters, where he was hugely impressed by the Alto and got (shall we say) inspired. Some years later, Apple developed an operating system with a similar GUI-based design. It was incorporated into the Macintosh, released in 1984.
Apple history: the story of Apple