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Episode 3 Notes - Myth of the Macintosh

May 14, 2019

The original Macintosh is undeniably iconic. A lot of people were introduced to computing through the machine, and it helped launch Apple as a company into the stratosphere. There are also a lot of myths that circulate around the Macintosh. The larger story that I run into most often is that Apple created the idea of a GUI. While I'd like to just dismiss these ideas wholesale, there is actually a complicated story underneath the surface.


First off, the Mac wasn't the "original GUI system". In fact, it wasn't even Apple's first GUI. The Apple LISA came to market nearly a year before the Mac, and had a very similar GUI to the later Finder. (Low End Mac has a good write up on the LISA:


Going deeper, there were systems before even the LISA that used a GUI. Xerox's Alto workstation was completed before the LISA, and both had remarkably modern looking interfaces: windows, icons, dropdown menus, and a mouse pointer all layered over a desktop.

The final nail in the coffin of the idea that Apple created the desktop computing experience from scratch is this: in 1968 Doug Engelbart showcased the first GUI system. That software was called NLS. It may not look modern by any stretch, but it was the first system to use a mouse, as well as the first system to have fully realized hypertext(something that wouldn't come back in a big way until the internet age). And beyond all that, the first tech demo of NLS was recorded and is still archived today. (


That being said, Apple did bring new innovation to the table. The biggest new feature they created was the idea of a uniform user interface. Apple developed a uniform design language and a set of tools to enforce it's ideas. This let 3rd party programs on the Macintosh present the same style interface, which made computing much more accessible to every day users. In the current day we don't even think about the fact that each application we interact with uses the same set of menus, scroll bars, form elements, and fonts. But in the 1980s, that change helped bring many people who otherwise wouldn't be computer users into the fray. While Apple didn't invent the GUI, they did add an important piece to the puzzle.