Graphical User Interface

According to ABBREVIATIONFINDER.ORG, GUI is an acronym for Graphical User Interface. The graphical user interface is a program or environment that manages the interaction with the user based on visual relationships such as icons, menus or a pointer.

Brief history of GUI

The origin of the GUI could be said to have taken place thanks to the theories of Vannevar Bush. In 1945 he published his now famous article “How we should think”, in which he proposed an information and administration tool: Memex. This system allowed them to be stored and made more accessible, linking them to each other.

Another famous pioneer was Ivan Sutherland, a PhD student at MIT, who developed in his doctoral thesis a program called “Sketchpad” that allowed direct manipulation of graphic objects on a CRT screen using a stylus. It included the ability to zoom in and out of the image on the screen, the provision of memory to store objects, and the ability to draw precise lines and corners on the screen.

Douglas Engelbart was a brilliant scientist who, influenced by the theories of Vannevar Bush, worked on research on the Human-Machine interaction. He invented the first mouse, which he would later use in the NLS (ONLine System).

Great progress was made at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a center that sought to create “the architecture of information” and “the humanization of computers.” Among many of his inventions we can highlight the development of the first GUI, which debuted on the Alto computer.

Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, became interested in the innovations of Star, Alto’s successor, and decided to give his computers a similar GUI, although improved in many respects.
The Apple Macintosh, released in 1984, was the first successful commercial use of a GUI. It was so relevant that, since then, almost all systems use a GUI as a user interface.
Microsoft announced the development of its first graphical operating system in 1983 but the initial version (Windows 1.0) was released two years later. Windows 2.0 (released in December 1987) represented an improvement over the previous version with the addition of icons and overlapping windows, but it was not until 1995 with the release of Windows 95 that Microsoft was able to offer a GUI of relatively good quality. although it still does not measure up to the one offered by Apple.

The pioneer: On-Line System (NLS)

Douglas engelbart

Born in 1925 in Oregon, United States, he is an inventor of Norwegian descent. He is known for inventing the mouse and as a pioneer of Human-Machine interaction; the team he led developed, among other things, hypertext, the computer network, and the forerunners of GUIs.
Engelbart received a broad education, graduating as an electrical engineer from Oregon State University in 1948, as an engineer from UC Berkeley in 1952, and receiving a doctorate from the same university in 1955.
During the Second World War he was assigned as a radio technician, Engelbart was enormously interested in Vannevar Bush’s article “How we should think.” After obtaining his doctorate he began working on magnetic logic devices at SRI (Stanford Research Institute.


During his time at SRI he was in charge of the design and development of the OnLine System (NLS). He and his team developed elements of computer interfaces such as bitmap displays, multiple windows, groupware, hypertext, and the forerunners of GUIs.
In 1970 patented the computer mouse, described as an “XY position indicator for a display system,” whose mechanism consisted of a small wooden box on wheels that moved the cursor on the screen as it moved across a horizontal surface. Engelbart designed the mouse as an integral part of a “graphical windowing interface” and invented what he called a “windowed GUI,” an idea that excited his colleagues but was deemed of little use outside the lab. He never made a profit for his invention anymore. that the patent expired in 1987, before the personal computer revolution made its device indispensable.



In 1945 Vannevar Bush described a theoretical analog computer called Memex in his article “How We Should Think” (The name of the system was an abbreviation for “MEMory EXtender”). Bush described it as an electronic device connected to a library and was capable of displaying library books and movies and tracking cross-references.
The Memex was designed as a large table where microfilms are combined with various electronic devices, such as cameras and readers. Although it is sometimes confused, the technology of Memex is not that of hypertext, it only inspired its creators.
In addition to the above, the system also allowed us to do much more interesting things, such as creating new information by simply adding it to microfilms, which made some consider Memex a forerunner of current PCs. It should be noted that, despite being able to add information, Memex was not able to classify it, having to do so by the same user.


Founded by NASA, ARPA, and the American Air Force, the NLS was the first GUI to employ hypertext links, a mouse, or a monitor. Already in the 60s it provided intelligent solutions such as the presentation of information in the manner of programs such as Microsoft PowerPoint, among others.
The system was developed around the SDS 940, a time-sharing computer with approximately 96 MB of hard disk (a more than considerable capacity for those times). NLS allowed users to enter their data through punched cards, if they could not have access to the keyboard or mouse, although obviously this capacity was not used very much. This led to the OLS (OffLine Service).
In what was called “the mother of all demonstrations,” the NLS was connected from San Francisco by phone to Menlo Park, California, from where it received the data it processed. Something really impressive when we are talking about 1968.
The trigger for the fall of the NLS was the difficult learning curve, which makes sense considering that it did not even have a point-and-click interface. After the crash, many of the team members went to the Xerox lab for PARC development.

The appearance of Xerox Parc, Apple Lisa, Amiga, Windows…

Xerox PARC

Engelbart’s work led directly to the advancements at Xerox PARC. In this new system, a paradigm based on windows, icons, menus and cursors (WIMP) could be appreciated, previously tested on the experimental Xerox Alto computer and which appeared commercially on the Xerox Star computer in 1981.

Apple Lisa

The Macintosh was the first successful commercial computer to enjoy the use of a GUI. As early as 1984, they used a desktop metaphor similar to Star’s. The early versions of Lisa did not exactly follow the WIMP paradigm, but future versions were even more influenced by the Xerox prodigy.


Desqview was the first program that brought multitasking closer to two, allowing multiple programs to run concurrently in windows. Although it was not really a GUI, since it based its operation on the text, it shared certain ideas with them, such as being able to change the size of the windows, the overlap of these and the use of the mouse.


Parallel to the development of Windows, Digital Research developed the GEM. Originally created as a window system for IBM PCs, it was curiously more successful on Atari ST machines.

Amiga Workbench

The Amiga computer was released by Commodore in 1985 with a GUI called Workbench. Users remember the first versions for their striking color palette (blue, orange, white and black), thus selected for their high contrast. The Workbench was so named because it represented the directories as “drawers” of a virtual desktop called a Workbench. The library that made it work was called Intuition.

Due to an error in the sales department, the first floppy disks of Amiga (os) were labeled with the name of Workbench, so that everyone went on to call the set of applications and programs that way, until it was fixed in version 2.0.
Amiga users could also boot their computer into a command line interface (CLI), then launch Workbench if they wanted.


The use of object-oriented graphics radically changed the image of GUI’s to what can be seen today. Advanced graphical functions such as animated buttons, 24-bit color icons, screen and window backgrounds, transparencies and shadows; turned the Workbench into a complete and modern graphical interface.


Windows 1.0 was a GUI for the MS-DOS operating system, which had been the system of choice for IBM computers and compatible since 1981, but it was not until version 3.0 introduced in 1990 that it became popular. Since that time the GUI has been redesigned to a greater or lesser extent, although retaining a similar structure since Windows 95.


It emerged in 1986 as a system designed for the Commodore 64 8-bit computer, although it was later ported to the IBM PC. It brought applications such as a calendar or a built-in text editor as standard.

Risc OS

Called Arthur in its first versions, this GUI oriented to ARM processors used a task bar and a file browser similar to those that the Mac OS has now. It was released by Acorn Computers in the late 80’s. It should be noted that evolutions of this GUI still exist today.


It was designed for the NeXT line of computers, being able to highlight that it used, already then, PostScript for its graphics. Its most notable feature was the Dock, a repository where to put applications, later ported to the Mac OS. It was the first GUI that made windows opaque by dragging them. It was considerably easier to use than any of its predecessors.


OS / 2 was a joint effort by IBM and Microsoft to replace DOS with an equivalent system capable of multitasking. Following the unsuccessful attempt and the separation of the companies, IBM developed the Workplace Shell (WPS) for future versions of the operating system. It should be noted that it was one of the first GUIs developed with object-oriented programming


It was developed on AT&T Hobbit range computers as an alternative to the Mac OS by a former Apple executive. It used an object-oriented kernel and, after much effort, it was managed to make it an efficient platform for multimedia.


Based on a PostScript display, this Sun MicroSystems product was distributed for years in conjunction with the X Windows System on their machines. Although there were those who defined it as “technically elegant”, its creators decided to stop producing it.

X Windows System

Emerged from the Mit, it was not really a GUI, but an interface to program them. It was distributed with different window managers, in the photo you can see the Windows Maker running on it. It is probably one of the most successful developments when it comes to GUIs, judging by its current use and its different implementations / variants.

Mac OS X

With many ideas copied from NeXTSTEP, this GUI is currently one of the most impressive to see working due to its different effects such as aladdin or exposé. It is currently the GUI with which Macintosh computers are distributed. In the photo you can see it with its Aqua theme.

Windows Vista

The next generation of Microsoft’s operating system will contain a significantly different GUI than previous versions. The new interface, called Aero, will have two modes: Aero – in which you will use shading effects (commonly used in games like Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 for effects like water) and alpha-transparencies to draw windows and give them a crystalline effect. The other mode, Basic, will be equivalent to Luna in Windows XP. The more classic interface of the previous versions is also included. This will be the first version of the popular system that will directly use the graphics card to produce the images.

Graphical User Interface