Tech Time Warp: Rage against the GUIs — June 1993

Posted by Lauren Beliveau on Jun 17, 2016 12:00:00 PM

NewtonGUI.jpgIn this Tech Time Warp, we’ll revisit June 1993, shortly before Apple launched the Newton OS 1.0. Don’t remember the Newton? We can’t blame you. This early tablet—the first “personal digital assistant”—recognized your handwriting to document notes. There was a lot of buzz about the new technology when it first launched, but high prices and bugs with the handwriting recognition software made it a tough sell. Apple cancelled the Newton after just a few years. With the popularity of Windows, GUIs (graphical user interfaces) were also a hot topic in 1993, but not everyone was happy about them.

Down with GUIs

“Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are not human compatible,” said Jef Raskin in the article ‘Down with GUIs’ published by WIRED in June 1993 “As long as we hang on to interfaces as we now know them, computers will remain inherently frustrating, upsetting, and stressful.” Raskin’s article suggested that even though GUIs are designed for easy computer use, they actually make the computing process harder and that applications aren’t as seamless as they could be.


Raskin suggested mixing and matching command sets from different applications to create easier functionality. For example, if you like MacWrite for spell check but you prefer Microsoft Word for footnotes, why not combine them? Instead of switching between applications and having to change how you do something, having a seamless interface would cut down on clutter.

“Interfaces won't improve until you complain and until interface designers come to know and accept the way the human mind works on tasks,” Raskin said.  He argued that GUIs needed to be changed because once we start using them, we can’t be untrained. “Human adaptability has limits and today's GUIs have many features that lie outside those limits, so we never fully adapt but just muddle along at one or another level of expertise.” To read the full article, click here. To look back at different GUIs throughout history, click here.


Modern GUI mishaps

GUIs didn’t go away back in 1993, though, and Windows and Apple are still battling to have the most popular and intuitive GUI. In fact, Microsoft recently released their Windows 10 upgrade. It’s generally been well-received, but there’s been some heated debate over what some see as “forced updates.” Maybe you’re even one of the users who are still upset that Windows updated without your permission.  

Windows released a statement that if users clicked OK or selected the red ‘X’ they will be scheduled to run the upgrade. As pointed out by Computerworld, the ‘x’ has traditionally been used in GUIs as a way to close out of a window, so many thought they were simply dismissing the option without agreeing to the update.

Like Jef Raskin pointed out in 1993, GUIs have simply trained us to act, such prompting you to save when you ‘x’ out of a program.  So when Windows enabled the Windows 10 upgrade that way, it’s no wonder it has caused such an uproar.

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Topics: Tech Time Warp

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