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The History of the Graphical User Interface -- 1945 to 1980
A visual, historical tour of the early years of computer GUI's... starting in 1945.
August 21, 2023
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The 1980s and 1990s were an amazing time in computer history… with so many well known stories of computer GUI’s that have become instantly recognizable.

The Macintosh. Windows. So many others.

But how did we get here? What were things like before the 1980s? How did the graphical user interfaces of computers get their start?

For that… we need to go back to the end of World War II. When songs like "Sentimental Journey" ruled the radio.

1945

In 1945, Vannevar Bush (the first Director of the USA’s Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II) wrote an article, published in The Atlantic, entitled “As We May Think”.

This article turns out to be one of the most critical works in the history of computing and it describes a new machine… which Bush calls the “Memex”. Essentially… what we now call the Personal Computer.

“It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.”

Bush also describes ways of storing, retrieving, and interacting with information within the “Memex”. What he describes is the precursor to things like Hypertext, structured file systems, wide area networks (and the Internet) and… Graphical User Interfaces.

I can’t recommend reading this essay strongly enough. Vannevar Bush was absolutely brilliant.

1963

Flash forward to 1963. A man named Ivan Sutherland, who was working on his PhD in Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, was inspired by Bush’s Memex to build a highly graphical computer system.

Not a hypothetical one. Not a concept. Something real.

He built the software on Lincoln TX-2 — which had a whopping 64K 36-bit words of memory, absolutely mammoth for the time. This massive amount of memory was going to be necessary for the ambitious graphical plan that Sutherland had in mind.

Fun side note: The Lincoln TX-2 was also the computer where the first simulation of packet switching networks was run by Leonard Kleinrock. Like using the Internet? Thank Leonard and the Lincoln TX-2.

What Sutherland created was something truly remarkable.

A system where the user could work, with a lightpen, on a graphical display with immediate feedback. Vector graphics. Flowcharting. 3D Modelling. Object oriented design.

If you have never seen this demo before, it is an absolute must watch. As you’re watching, remember that this was from 1963. And nothing like this had ever been done before.

 
So many moments in this demo absolutely blow me away. Around the 11 minute mark, he demonstrates zooming in on a vector graphics document. Way, way in. Modifying a vector object, then zooming out again.
 
In 1963. With 64k of 36-bit words to work with. Simply astounding.
 

1968

During the 1960s, Douglas Engelbart was working on a computing system of his own, funded by the US Air Force, NASA, and ARPA. His work was heavily influenced by both Bush’s “As We May Think” essay, and by Sutherland’s Sketchpad. He built on both of them heavily to create many of the User Interface concepts we know today.

In order to accomplish his goals, in 1968, Engelbart’s development efforts settled on the SDS 940. Powered by a 24-bit CPU (yeah, you read that right), 64 kilowords of 24bit memory and (get this) 4.5 MB of Swap. Oh! And 96 MB of storage.

In the ‘60s! The SDS 940 was an absolute beast of a machine!

Using this machine, Engelbart’s team developed what they called the “oN-Line System” or simply “NLS”.

More fun trivia time: Why was the “oN-Line Sytem” called “NLS” instead of “OLS”? You see, one of the early machines in use (prior to the SDS 940) simply wasn’t beefy enough to handle more than one user. So, for a time, the system was actually two related systems… the “Off-Line Text System” (which they abbreviated to “FLTS”) and the “On-Line Text System” (NLTS). Those just seemed like the best acronyms to them. Eventually the system added graphical capabilities (read: not just text). So they dropped the “Text”… and NLTS became NLS.

In December of 1968, Engelbart gave a 90 minute demonstration of the NLS that would come to be known as “The Mother of All Demos”.

 
The Mouse (a three button one, no less). Word processing. File revision control. Windows. Hypertext. The works.

If you haven’t seen this (or seen it lately), it is highly recommended.

Remember that this is all happening in 1968. 14 years before the release of the Commodore 64.

1969

Remember that amazing SDS 940? The computer behind “The Mother of All Demos”?

Well, Xerox bought Scientific Data Systems in 1969. And, with it, the SDS 940.

Scientific Data Systems was renamed Xerox Data Systems.

Remember this for later.

1972

While all of this was going on, during the 1960s, a team at the University of Illinois was building and refining PLATO - Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations. A computer system for teaching.

Over time new versions of PLATO were rolled out with increasingly advanced features. And, by 1972, PLATO IV had some pretty darned impressive ones.

Bitmapped graphics. A touch screen (in a 16x16 grid… so not exactly super precise… but still impressive). Digital audio stored to a hard drive. Voice and music synthesizers. Along with drawing software and, I kid you not, emojis. Yeah. The first emojis were created in 1972 on the PLATO IV.

The Plato IV - Image courtesy of the University of Illinois

Remember how Xerox had purchased the company that made the SDS 940? Well, researchers from Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) were given a detailed tour of PLATO IV in 1972.

And they took notes.

A gentleman by the name of Butler Lampson — who, as it would happen, was instrumental in the development of the Berkeley Time Sharing System for the SDS 940 — was one of the founding members, and a principal scientist, of Xerox PARC.

In December of 1972, Lampson wrote a memo to Xerox Corporate to request funds to build “a substantial number (10 - 30)" of Alto workstation computers.

Inspiration around the Alto came from many places. Including from the work of Engelbart on the SDS 940 (the mouse, windows, and more) and from PLATO IV.

1973

And now we arrive to a point in history that is a bit more often discussed.

In 1973, Xerox PARC unveils the Alto. A computer with a mouse. Movable windows. A “desktop” (with folders and icons). WYSIWYG document layout. Bitmap and vector graphics editing. Object Oriented programming (in Smalltalk).

This system had it all.

It took many of the concepts that came before… from Memex to Sketchpad to oN-Line System to PLATO IV… and refined. Combined it all together, added some innovations of their own, and polished it into a complete system ready for use.

For the first time, we had a graphical user interface that was more than a demo. More than a proof of concept.

The Smalltalk environment on the Alto. Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum.

As ground-breaking, and truly remarkable as the Alto was… only about 2,000 were ever made. And, for several years, the idea of a mass market Personal Computer with a graphical User Interface proved elusive.

1979

First launched in 1979, but not shipped until 1980, the PERQ workstation represented one of the first post-Alto attempts at a commercial, graphical user interface workstation PC.

The PERQ I workstation. Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum.

These were certainly not cheap systems. As you can see from this PERQ 1979 pricing list:

But it certainly came with a lot of features. This was a heck of a system!

The primary operating system was single-tasking, graphical, and heavily centered around the Pascal programming language. (Which… is a sentence that could also be used to exactly describe both the Apple Lisa and Apple Macintosh that would appear a few years later.)

Unfortunately the PERQ is mostly lost to time and seldom referenced nowadays. The final revision (the PERQ 2) launched in 1983, with the company being purchased… and the new parent company scrapping the in-development PERQ 3 by 1985.

A text editor from a PERQ workstation.

Which… brings us to the end of the 1970s.

Around this time, Steve Jobs took a tour of Xerox PARC and left with a great many ideas.

And, within the next 5 to 6 years, multiple companies (including Apple, Microsoft, Visi Corp, and Commodore… just to name a few) would release graphical user interfaces to run on their operating systems and personal computers.

And so much of it stems from 1945… and the Memex.

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Red Hat Whistleblowers say Company Ignores Ethics Violations
... when those violations are in line with racist or sexist policies.

Over the last several months, we've learned a great deal about the racist and sexist policies within Red Hat (the largest Linux company on Earth) and parent company, IBM.

This includes corporate training which teaches that "Whiteness" is a bad thing, racist "pledge" systems, skin-color based hiring quotas, and more.

Now, thanks to whistleblowers continuing to provide leaked material to The Lunduke Journal, we have learned that Red Hat ignores reports of corporate ethics violations... when those violations are in line with Red Hat's established racist policies.

Red Hat's Ethics Violation Reporting System

Red Hat provides only one system which allows employees to anonymously report ethics violations: The "Red Hat Ethics Hotline" provided by a company named Convercent.

The Red Hat "Ethics Hotline"

The "Ethics Hotline" includes this note from Tom Savage, Senior Vice President (and General Counsel) for Red Hat:  

"Whether you speak up through this Compliance and Ethics Hotline or another reporting channel, take comfort in knowing, as outlined in the Code of Business Conduct and Ethics, that Red Hat is committed to protecting associates from retaliation."

From the Red Hat "Ethics Hotline"

However, this statement from Red Hat's General Counsel appears to be untrue.  Or, at the very least, Red Hat employees do not believe it to be true.  As reported by whistleblowers within Red Hat, it is felt that making purely anonymous complaints is the "only safe way of reporting politically sensitive topics."

Ethics Violations Ignored by Red Hat

According to one whistleblower, reports of ethics violations are "always ignored".

Another whistleblower submitted multiple reports using the "Ethics Hotline", only to have each one "Closed" with no details or resolution of any kind.  Reports were closed "suddenly, with no notice or explanation or marking."

The following is a screenshot of one such ethics violation report, using the "Ethics Hotline", which has been "Closed" with no messages, attachments, or response of any kind.

Source: Red Hat Whistleblower

You'll note that this ethics violation report deals directly with race and sex-based discrimination within the hiring and career advancement programs at Red Hat.  A topic which, regardless of outcome, is the type of potential "ethics violation" (with severe legal consequences) which any company would want to take seriously.

Yet this "Ethics Hotline" report -- along with several others provided to The Lunduke Journal for review -- was marked as "Closed" with not so much as a note explaining why.

Whether it be the fault of the system being used, an issue with Red Hat corporate policy, or actions of the individuals responsible for reviewing these violation reports... one Red Hat whistleblower says "there is no real way for employees to report ethics violations."

What we know:

  • Red Hat (along with parent company, IBM) has multiple racist & sexist programs -- of, at best, dubious legality -- many of which would constitute clear ethics violations.
  • While Red Hat provides a mechanism for employees to report such ethics violations, those reports (at least when dealing with the racist & sexist actions of individiuals within the company, and corporate policy) are ignored and "Closed" without a stated reason.
  • Red Hat employees feel "unsafe" reporting such violations in any non-anonymous way.

These facts paint a highly unsavory picture of Red Hat's commitement (or lack thereof) to behaving and doing business in an ethical way.

As always, The Lunduke Journal invites Red Hat (and parent company, IBM) to respond if any information within this report is inaccurate in any way.  The Lunduke Journal prides itself on accurate, factual reporting and will publish corrections, comments, or clarifications provided by the company.


 

Become a Tech Whistleblower

The Lunduke Journal takes the privacy of whistleblowers incredibly seriously -- we have a firm rule of never revealing any information regarding the identidy of whistleblowers, and all leaked material is meticulously researched and scrubbed (with all possibly identifying metadata removed) prior to publication.

Do you work in the Tech industry?  Have you witnessed concerning activity, which you feel should see the light of day, but don't know how to get the information out there anonymously?  This article will walk you through the process, step by step:

Thank you to all of the brave whistleblowers who have already come forward.  As they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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Lunduke's Random Linux Marketing Anecdotes

My days working in Linux marketing were... interesting.  It was a truly unique experience.  Wouldn't trade a moment of it (even the less than enjoyable parts).

Because I am feeling nostalgic, here's a few little tidbits from my time selling Linux-y stuff for Linux-y companies.

SUSE - The Oldest Linux Company

I spent roughly 4 years at SUSE as -- I kid you not -- often the only person, in the entire marketing department, who actually used Linux.  As such I tended to be the guy that every random marketing idea needed to be run by... you know, just to make sure SUSE didn't end up saying something that insulted Linux-folk.

Seriously.  It was crazy.  At one point the lady who ran all of marketing -- for the oldest Linux company -- had almost no clue, whatsoever, about how to even begin using Linux.  Or what the history of Linux was.  Or what the major projects were.

It was like if the head of marketing for Coca Cola had never tasted Coke before... and refused to even take a sip.  And was only vaguely aware that it was even a liquid.

Just the same... most of the time it was pretty fun.  I kept churning out ad campaigns that were some of the biggest successes SUSE had ever had -- resulting in SUSE numbers shooting up -- and, as a result, they gave me a lot of freedom.

Of the many varied and weird marketing projects I put together at SUSE... my favorite was a music video parody of "Uptown Funk"... about Linux kernel patching.

"Uptime Funk" was a fun one.  We hired a great group of musicians and dancers -- down in Provo, Utah -- who did a stellar job.  Our cinematographer and editor was absolutely amazing.

And, most importantly, nobody messed with my lyrics.  Which made me happy.  🤣

I tell ya.  The executives almost always messed with my words.

I remember, one time I wrote a parody of Justin Timberlake's "Can't Stop the Feeling".  I turned it into a song about a guy eating pie a dinner... singing about how he runs Linux on absolutely everything in his house.  He compulsively installs Linux on everything.  If it has electricity, he installs Linux on it.  And then he installs Linux inside of VMs on Linux.  And he uses a remote X session to log into his crock pot.

It was glorious.  And ridiculous.

Then the powers that be swooped in.  Non-Linux-understanding marketing people got assigned to "revise" the lyrics with the explicit instruction of making it "more marketing-y".

The result was "Can't Stop the SUSE".  Which, annoyingly, still lists me as having written the lyrics.  I'll let you decide how I feel about that song.

Near the end of my tenure at SUSE, things weren't quite as fun.  At one point I recall getting into an argument with the VP of Marketing... who told me, point blank, to never use the phrase "Free Software" and to stop talking about "Open Source" so much.

Seriously.  Things were going in a weird direction.

Then I left, SUSE got a new CEO, and everything went to heck in a handbasket for the oldest Linux company.

Purism - The Linux Hardware Guys

I spent a short spell as the Director of Marketing at Purism -- a company which sells laptops and whatnot pre-loaded with Linux.  While I ended up leaving the company due to some disagreements over how the business was run... there were definitely some fun moments.

For the launch of Librem One (Purism's effort to make a privacy-respecting online service), we created a commercial.  It's just a wee bit naughty.  No swearing but... definitely a lot of innuendo.  😎

You might recognize the voice at the end.

Ultimately, the Librem One service had some success -- but was severely bogged down by technical issues, and code licensing conflicts, early on.  Which was a bummer.  Really hobbled what could have otherwise been a fun product launch.

But, heck, the commercial was fun.  So it had that going for it!

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Red Hat vs Hyprland: Silencing political "undesirables"
Beneath the drama: The abuse of corporate power, extremist politics, bullying, & censorship of "wrongthink".

The Open Source world is no stranger to drama.  Heck, if it's a day that ends in "Ay!", there's likely some random, usually overblown, drama happening in one Open Source organization or another.

But, sometimes, within that drama, there exists a bigger story.

Such is the case with "Red Hat vs Hyprland".

Within this drama there lies a tale of extremist poltiics, abuse of corporate power, and silencing of political "undesirables".  The things we learn here -- burried beneath the layers of drama -- are deeply disturbing, with significant ramifications for the entire Open Source industry.

Cutting through the noise

As with all drama, there's a lot of finger pointing.  And... noise.  So much noise.  Let's cut through all of that and get right to the facts.

The basic facts of this event:

  1. The core developer behind Hyprland (a tiling Linux window manager which has gained significant traction), a man who goes by the name "Vaxry", has been banned from any involvement in the Freedesktop project (an umbrella project covering Xorg, Wayland, and many other core Linux Desktop projects).
  2. This ban means that Vaxry will not be allowed to report bugs or submit code patches to Freedesktop projects -- often directly relevant to his own work on the Hyprland window manager.
  3. The ban (affecting Freedesktop) was enacted by a Red Hat representative (using a RedHat.com email address), based on a perceived 2 year old "Code of Conduct Violation" on a Hyprland chat server.
  4. Red Hat, Freedesktop, and Hyprland are all separate organizations.

As with any drama, there's a great deal of other information out there -- along with frenzied onlookers yelling about it from the sidelines -- but those are the core actions and facts.

The key takeaway: A representative from Red Hat was using corporate power to force a person out of other (read: non-Red Hat) organizations.  For reasons not related to Red Hat.  Nor related to the organization the person was being banned from.

In essence, Red Hat flexing it's muscle -- bending large portions of the Open Source world to do it's bidding.

By itself, that's bad enough.  But it gets worse.  Much worse.

What was the "violation"?

In order to understand how truly disturbing this issue is, we need to know a few additional details.  Starting with the initial "Code of Conduct Violation".

Back in 2022 -- yes, two years ago -- on the Discord chat server for the Hyprland window manager project, a man who identified as "Trans" listed his preferred prouns as "she/her".

A moderator on that Hyprland chat server changed that "Trans" person's pronouns to list as "who/cares".

Screenshot of the "Code of Conduct Violation".

Flash forward to 2024, and this "who/cares" action comes to the attention of another man who identifies as "Trans".  An employee of Red Hat named Lyude Paul.

To give you an idea of the motivations of the actions which follow: Lyude Paul has a publicly stated goal of "bullying" anyone who does not adequately show respect to "Trans" issues, as shown in his social media posts.

Source: Lyude Paul's Mastodon account.

Lyude Paul also promotes the idea that "right-wing people are not welcomed" in organizations.

Source: Lyude Paul's Mastodon account.

As Lyude Paul has a stated objective of "bullying" people -- making sure they are "not welcomed" -- if they do not profess the correct political ideals (or do not support "Trans" activism in the proper way)... it is not entirely surprising that this gentleman would use his position at Red Hat to ban those he disagrees with.

And that is exactly what happened.

Source: Lyude Paul's official email from RedHat.com.

Lyude Paul -- using his Red Hat email address -- informed Vaxry (the lead developer of Hyprland -- the project where the "who/cares" chat server incident occurred) that he was now banned from the entirety of the Freedesktop project and organization.

An important note: When a person sends an email from their corporate email account, they are acting on behalf of the corporation.  That is a hard and fast rule that has been in place since... well... forever.  Likewise Red Hat has not distanced itself from these actions in the least.

You can read the full emails, from Lyude Paul / Red Hat, as published by Vaxry.

The Red Hat Problem

This is an example of Red Hat, a corporation with a wild history of discrimination and censorship, using their corporate power (and strength within the Linux and Open Source world) to bully and silence those they politically disagree with.

Red Hat could condemn these actions (which were done in Red Hat's name) by their employee.  They have not done so.

None of this should be terribly surprising, considering what we already know about the IBM subsidiary.  They have a history of taking extreme political stances... and they actively discriminate against employees who deviate from their allowed, always extremely politically Leftist, ideals.

Considering Red Hat's historical stances and actions, it is no surprise that an employee of Red Hat would be able to use the corporate power of Red Hat to bully others who possessed the wrong ideas (as was the publicly stated objective of Lyude Paul).

A singular bit of drama... and a trend.

This particular incident has elicited strong reactions -- and has grabbed the attention of many across the Linux and Open Source industry.  Lots of drama.  Lots of opportunities to quote people who are making big, outlandish statements.

And most of that drama is little more than distracting fluff.

But the core -- the facts -- are truly disturbing.  And, once again, Red Hat finds itself at the center of another story where people are being discriminated against.

A few closing thoughts.

  • If this sort of bullying, censorship, and blacklisting of those with the "wrong politics" is allowed to continue... it will get worse.
  • Lyude Paul is guilty of far more extreme "Code of Conduct" violations than Vaxry -- as is shown in the screenshots above.  Yet Lyude Paul has not been banned, censored, or punished in any way by Red Hat or Freedesktop.
  • It would appear fairly obvious that the "Code of Conduct", at least in this case, is being used as a weapon to selectively harm specific individuals.
  • Considering Red Hat / IBM's history and dedication to discriminating against specific groups, it seems a fair assumption that these actions are not only allowed but encouraged by corporate leadership.  Should that not be the case, The Lunduke Journal encourages Red Hat and IBM to make a statement regarding it.  If such a statement is made, The Lunduke Journal will publish it in full.
  • Will Open Source organizations -- such as Freedesktop -- allow these sorts of discriminatory actions to continue?
  • Should Freedesktop, and others, continue allowing this type of discrimination... what result will that have on existing Open Source projects and users of those projects?

The Lunduke Journal has reached out to representatives from IBM and Red Hat for comment.  As of the time of publication The Lunduke Journal has received no response.

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