How Computers Got “Gooey”

As you tap away on your iPad or laptop, it may be hard to remember an unwired world. But as most adults 40 and older will attest, computers have come a long way from their big-box origins of the 1970s.

The word “icon” is derived from the Greek word “eikon,” which means image. In the early days of computing, systems were text-based, and there were no clickable icons to navigate through a computer’s system. Typing on the keyboard was the only option.

In 1972, a system named Alto was conceptualized by Butler Lamson in a paper he wrote while at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

In 1975, Xerox debuted its first GUI (pronounced GOOEY) system. GUI is the acronym for Graphical User Interface.
The Alto incorporated the mouse, icons, menu pop-ups and overlapping windows into its system.

Steve Jobs of Apple Computer wanted to revolutionize the company’s Apple IIe computer and take it beyond its text-based system. Jobs visited Xerox’s Palo Alto center in 1979 and was excited when he saw the demo of the Alto GUI software in action.

As a result of his visit, Apple developed a personal computer named the “Lisa,” which incorporated the Alto GUI concept. The Lisa was introduced on Jan. 19, 1983, at a retail price of $9,995.

The Lisa was a failure for Apple. Sales faltered due to its high cost while trying to compete with its lower-cost IBM PC competitors.

As the Lisa was in development, Apple was also developing the Macintosh, later nicknamed the “Mac.” While the Mac was not a direct descendant of the Lisa, it was a close kissing cousin. A later version of the Lisa, dubbed the “Lisa/2,” was renamed the “Mac XL.”

On Jan. 22, 1984, Apple ran its infamous and brilliant “1984” TV commercial during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII.

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Two days later, the Apple Macintosh went on sale at a price of $2,495. The cost included the computer, a mouse and a 3.5-inch floppy disk drive with a capacity of 400 kilobytes. External hard-drive storage arrived later at an additional cost.

The Mac quickly developed a loyal following, although most in the IBM PC arena considered it nothing more than a toy. The Mac, however, found a niche market in the desktop publishing industry.

On Nov. 10, 1983, at New York City’s Plaza Hotel, Microsoft announced Microsoft Windows. Thanks to a marketing-minded Rowland Hanson, Microsoft’s vice president of corporate communications, the product was named “Windows” instead of “Interface Manager,” the original name that Microsoft founder Bill Gates had settled on.

Though Microsoft promised to have Windows on store shelves by April 1984, the first copies of Windows 1.0 didn’t ship until Nov. 20, 1985, a full two years after it was first announced.

Apple threatened to sue Microsoft for copyright and patent infringement. Gates worked out a licensing agreement with Apple in 1985, but that agreement didn’t last long.

In 1987, Microsoft released a new and improved Windows 2.0, which looked more like the Mac. Apple filed a lawsuit in 1988 claiming that the new version of Windows violated the 1985 license agreement and that Microsoft infringed on 170 of their copyrights. The court disagreed, and Microsoft ultimately won the suit after a four-year battle.

Imagine what Microsoft-based systems might have looked like if Microsoft had lost the case!

Photo Credits: Alto Computer – Xerox PARC, Apple Lisa and Macintosh – Apple, Inc., Microsoft Logo – Microsoft Corp.

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