Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A wimp's 40th birthday

Industry analysts generally equate modern personal computing with the GUI, or graphical user interface. Therefore, March 1992 is generally seen as the birth of the PC, namely the release date of Windows 3.1.

There is then another group of analysts that then counters the GUI was really invented on 24 January 1984 when the Macintosh was released. Of course others then claim the GUI is older than that when Smalltalk with its WIMP paradigm was invented at Xerox PARC.

Actually, the WIMP paradigm is even older than PARC. The PC was really invented concomitantly with the mainframe, and the main person behind it was "Lick" Licklider. You can read up the PC's history in M. Mitchell Waldrop's "The Dream Machine."

Anyway, the acronym is WIMP, which stands for windows, icons, mice, and pointing. That goes back to 40 years ago.

It the PC's history was linear, today we would use them to solve partial differential equations. The basic idea was time sharing, later called adaptive computing and today called cloud computing. Not a reason to spend money on an iPhone, Blackberry, or Netbook.

The paradigm shift occurred in San Francisco on 9 December 1968 at 1 p.m. at the ACM conference, when Doug Engelbart demonstrated his On-Line System or NLS. It was about augmenting human intellect, and in a single demo (a.k.a. The Mother of All Demos) he introduced concepts like windows, hypertext, mice, cording keyboard, collaborative software (groupware), video chatting, networking, and more to a stunned crowd still using punched cards.

The celebrations are this afternoon at Stanford in the Memorial Auditorium.

Happy Birthday, WIMP!