This is meant to be a short post. I have been watching videos lately of the design of the first graphical computers. These were Sutherland's Sketchpad (running on a room-sized TX-2, roughly in 1961), the first graphical UI, Doug Engelbart's NLS (in 1968) demonstrating the first word processor, personal computer, information worker, mouse, etc., and Xerox Star (1981) with windows, WYSIWYG word processing, laser printers, icons, desktop, etc.
The following images come from guidebookgallery.org and Stanford's site
the Xerox Star
The fun stuff is the videos. Sutherland's videos remind us of the world he was building on. These were transistor-based room-based computers dedicated to batch processing (paper cards to store programs and all). This was coming back from the WW2 efforts (only a decade earlier, in the 1940s). The TX-2 was an MIT computer built in 1958. His contribution was to think of one of these computers as controlled by a single person, in real-time, while looking at a "scope" (now commonly referred to as a "computer monitor", but then it was more like an oscilloscope), and giving instructions with a handheld control (not quite a mouse, but getting there). At this time, each computer was for community use, programmed by a team, who spent much time creating the programs and then seeing the result of their efforts in a few minutes, then going back to the drawing effort. Sutherland's videos are not quite collated in single place, and are long downloadable files. You can find a long video filmed at MIT here, a reporter asks some top level questions and then there is a demo. It's quite amazing, with the MIT senior scientist introducing this work as "a man talking to a computer for the first time in a way never seen before". Weirdly prescient about what the world of today would look like, it almost feels like science fiction movie played forward (whatever that means).
Doug Engelbart worked at SRI in California and has an awesome demo he gave in 1968 about what the "future" might be like with an augmented human intellect, whereby personal computers would change the way we do things. It's very cool. You can see the list of Engerlbart video snippets. I like his snippet of a word processor, and his idealistic notion of a workstation that would be at your disposal all day.
Finally, and most funly (yes, that is a word for me), I have some videos of the Xerox Star. A few of these videos are from a 1998 event when they decided to demo the Star for the last time. I am very amused at this because I was still in California then and remember talking to Dave Smith (one of the main UI designers and the one who wrote the first version of Star in smalltalk) about this event. He said that this was the final final demo as they had done a final demo a couple of years ago and there was always a final final final demo that people wanted.
You can watch his shpeel and demo on the Star and how it was designed, which is very funny. He shows how you would use it creating icons, putting stuff on a desktop, and using the word processor. I always tell the story of how I got to know about his past work when I was an intern at Apple. I spent the summer there and he shared his office with me, so I got to work closely with him (he's very funny in case I forgot to mention this).
Now, you have to realize that I had no idea of his background. All I knew was that he was always talking about how we want to help people think visually and that pictures and drawing are very easy things for people to do. And I kept thinking how this seemed a bit fluffy and too high-level, but whatever. But whenever we went into a talk in ATG (Advanced Technology Group), when he had a comment, everybody listened, so something was up. One day I told him I could not come in to work near the end of the week, as I had to present a paper on the Xerox Star, and he mentioned he had worked at Parc. I was amazed at this and asked him if was involved in the Star project. To which he replied yes. That he had thought of using icons and designing the desktop. I thought this was a bit odd, "what do you mean you thought of icons?". That's when it dawned on me that Dave Smith was probably the author of the paper I had to present that week, which was authored by Smith, Kirby, Kimball, and Verplank. Funny.