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A Look Back at the History of Computers

Posted In Products Review, Technology Reviews - By Techtiplib on Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 With No Comments »

A look at the history of computers will show that the early models were large and took up a lot of room, weighing several thousand pounds. However, this was back in the 1950s. By the 1970s, the invention of the microprocessor allowed manufacturers to make smaller and more powerful computers.

The Graphical User Interface

While all those were important, the emergence of the graphical user interface (GUI) cannot be underestimated. In simple terms, the GUI provided computers with a face, a shell that made it easier for non-computer experts to learn how to use them. No matter how powerful a computer is, people will shy away from it if it looks complicated. With the GUI, computers became more friendly and accessible.

The Origin of the GUI

The GUI and the mouse were demonstrated as far back as 1968 when Doug Engelbart and his team at Stanford research created a graphical user interface as well as a mouse. However, their value was not yet apparent at the time. Rather than computer manufacturers, his GUI was improved upon by Xerox at the Xerox PARC Research Center. In 1973, Xerox created the Xerox Alto, a computer with a GUI and a mouse. But Xerox did not market the product, and instead used for their own research. At the time, the company didn’t see the potential that it offered.

Apple Steps In

While Xerox did not recognize the potential of their own product, Steve Jobs of Apple certainly did. While on a tour of Xerox’s research center, Jobs was shown the Alto and its GUI and the mouse. Realizing what this meant, Jobs convinced many of the employees at Xerox to join Apple and improve on the GUI.

Apple revamped the GUI and in 1984 they released the Apple Computer called Macintosh. It had a GUI and a mouse and was targeted specifically at the mass market.

Windows

While the Macintosh was well received by critics and industry observers, it did not sell well initially due to its high price. Also, other computer makers caught on the idea, most notable of them being Microsoft. Microsoft was then working with IBM and they were dominating the PC market with Microsoft’s operating system called DOS.

The release of the Mac and its GUI led Microsoft to develop its own GUI for the PC called Windows. Windows, beginning with Windows 3.1 proved to very successful and sold millions of copies. Its successor, Windows 95, proved even more so.

Portable Computers

While the battle for desktop computers between Apple and Microsoft continued (and continues) another revolution was taking place, and that was the development of portable computers called laptops. The first laptop or portable computer was also created at Xerox. It was developed by Alan Kay and he called it the Dynabook. Again, it was not mass produced.

The first commercially produced laptop was the Osborne 1 which came out in 1981 with a 5 inch CRT display. But it looked nothing like modern laptops. They would not come until Apple came out with its PowerBooks which came with a track ball and later on a trackpad. Soon other more powerful models came out.

The history of computers as shown above indicates just how far they have gone. As technology continues to advance, there is no telling just what the future will hold.

By Gary – Computers today are very powerful and have a lot of features, but they were not always like this. In the early days, computers were very large with limited power. Trace the history of computers and why the graphical user interface is very important for users today.

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