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User Interface

     Until the Macintosh introduced Alan Kay’s (inventer of the personal computer, graphic user interfaces, object oriented programming, and software agents) ground breaking ideas on human-computer interfaces, operating systems didn’t include user interfaces. The Macintosh user interface is called the Macintosh ToolBox and provides the windows, menus, alert boxes, dialog boxes, scroll bars, buttons, controls, and other user interface elements shared by almost all programs.


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    The file system and the shell program (especially graphic shell programs) are the primary ways that the typical computer user experiences a computer. Many people think of an operating system as just these two elements.

graphic user interfaces


     Operating systems that support Aqua: Macintosh OS X

    “Aqua is what Eazel, Gnome, KDE, and all the rest of the we-make-it-easy Linux GUI crowd can only dream about. I find Aqua’s design light-years ahead of any other GUI on the market, which goes for both Linux and MS Windows.” —“X a perfect X”, Open (a Linux e-business magazine)m4

    “The Aqua interface brings your Mac to life with color, depth, translucence, and fluid motion — and keeps you on top of things with continuous visual feedback.” — Apple Computerw56

Common Desktop Environment

     Operating systems that support Common Desktop Environment (CDE): AIXw67, Digital UNIXe103, HP-UX, Solarise57

IRIX Interactive Desktop

     Operating systems that support IRIX Interactive Desktop (formerly Indigo Magic Desktop): IRIXe92

Macintosh ToolBox

     The Macintosh ToolBox was the first commercial graphic user interface.

     “On an innovative system like the Macintosh, programs don’t look quite the way they do on other systems. For example, instead of carrying out a sequence of steps in a predetermined order, your program is driven primarily by user actions (such as clicking and typing) whose order cannot be predicted.” —Inside Macintosh, Volume I, page I-4b4a

     “The Macintosh User Interface Toolbox provides a simple means of constructing application programs that conform to the standard Macintosh user interface. By offering a common set of routines that every application calls to implement the user interface, the Toolbox not only ensures familiarity and consistency for the user but also helps reduce the application’s code size and development time. At the same time, it allows a great deal of flexibility: An application can use its own code instead of a Toolbox call wherever appropriate, and can define its own types of windows, menus, controls, and desk accessories.

    “Figure 2 [below] shows the various parts of the Toolbox in rough order of their relative level. There are many interconnections between these parts; the higher ones often call those at the lower levels.” —Inside Macintosh, Volume I, page I-9b4b

Dialog Manager

Control Manager     Menu Manager     TextEdit

Window Manager

Toolbox Utilities

Toolbox Event Manager

Desk Manager     Scrap Manager


Package Manager     Font Manager

Resource Manager

     Operating systems that support the Macintosh ToolBox: Macintosh

screen shot


     Operating systems that support Motif: AIXw67, BSDi Internet Super Serverw67, Digital UNIXw33, OpenVMSe85

Presentation Manager

     Operating systems that support Presentation Manager: OS/2

Visual User Environment

     Operating systems that support Visual User Environment (VUE): HP-UX


     Operating systems that support Workbench Amigae95

screen shot

X Window

    “The X Window system provides a networked and platform independant graphical interface that (unlike proprietary user interfaces) allows one desktop to access applications running on multiple machines across local and wide area networks.”w25

     Operating systems that support X Window: AIX (R6.1)e101 and (X11R6.3 with OpenGL and graPHIGS)e112, Linuxw25, NetWarew97, OpenVMSe85, OS/2e122, SCO OpenServer e119, SCO UNIXWaree119

screen shot

    OpenVMS with the NAS packages (bundled with new systems) also supports X-11 and MOTIF.” —John Malmberge85

    “The industry standard X Window System (X11R6) provides a graphical user interface (GUI) for the cost of a common VGA card and monitor and comes with full sources.” — “FreeBSD in a Nutshell”w47

     “Linux uses the X window system (usually) as a graphical interface, which gives it the capability to distribute displays over a network, and which allows for windowing on the desktop. The X window managers or environments each have their own names (like AfterStep, fvwm, twm, olvwm, Enlightenment, KDE, etc). The X server which is normally used in Linux is XFree86.” —Rich Steinere61 (See also: http://www.xfree86.org


     Operating systems that support XFree86 (a kind of X Window): FreeBSDe94, Linuxe61, NetBSDe113

spoken user interfaces

screen shots

geek humor

    Actually, unix is a very user-friendly system. It’s just that it is particular about which users it chooses to be friendly with.

    “Window: Something out of which you jump when the power fails and you lose a large program.” —Apple II Ref. Manual

    “Smith & Wesson: The original Point and Click interface.” —http://extlab1.entnem.ufl.edu/IH8PCs/vol2/V2N5.html

    “Well, tough noogies. User interface isn’t always my strong point.” —Tom Christiansen in comp.infosystems.www.authoring.cgi

    “It’s a windowing system named X, not a system named X windows.” —Steve Armijo

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    Last Updated: November 18, 2006

    Created: June 4, 1998

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