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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

Personal computing: Windows, DOS and the MAC


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Direct-manipulation or graphical user interfaces (GUIs) are nearly as old as command-line interfaces.1 At the ACM Conference on The History of Personal Workstations, Doug Ross told of drawing on an oscilloscope screen by using his finger to move a spot of light in 1954. Graphic software has been a bastion of direct manipulation since the 195Os, and Douglas Englebart demonstrated direct manipulation of text to large audiences in the 1960s. The style of contemporary direct-manipulation interfaces evolved largely from prototypes developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s. The Xerox Star offered a commercial GUI in 1981 (see Figure 1), and several early GUIs, like VisiOn, TopView, and Windows version 1, failed on underpowered PCs. The Macintosh, introduced in 1984, was a major commercial success. Although GUIs have been used for years, the hardware to support them is expensive, so the vast majority of personal computer users still control their software by typing commands. With the introduction of Windows Version 3, Microsoft hopes to move DOS users away from their command-line interface to a direct-manipulation interface. Let us take a quick look at Windows, then compare it to DOS and the Mac.

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