1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

Summary: ZDNet's 20th anniversary: In 1991, the world received the graphical user interface. Here's a look.


 |  Image 9 of 15

  • Thumbnail 1
  • Thumbnail 2
  • Thumbnail 3
  • Thumbnail 4
  • Thumbnail 5
  • Thumbnail 6
  • Thumbnail 7
  • Thumbnail 8
  • Thumbnail 9
  • Thumbnail 10
  • Thumbnail 11
  • Thumbnail 12
  • Thumbnail 13
  • Thumbnail 14
  • Thumbnail 15

    Before Visual Studio, there was Borland, which was the world's leading vendor of computer programming languages for personal computers. Its flagship programming environment in 1990 and 1991, Borland Turbo C++, is shown above. Borland also produced Turbo Pascal as well as Turbo Assembler, as well as a relational database product, Paradox, which competed with Ashton-Tate's dBase. In 1991, Borland purchased Ashton-Tate and the dBase product, an acquisition that is largely associated with the company's decline.
    In the mid 1990s, Borland quickly found itself in competition with Microsoft's Visual C++. Access and Visual Basic products which started to become popular, and as a result of Microsoft's dominance in the software development toolset space, the company's products lost considerable market share. Borland eventually renamed itself to Inprise, sold off a number of its software product assets, renamed itself as Borland again, to eventually be acquired as a subsidiary of Micro Focus in 2009.

    ntroduced in 1989, NeXT is notable on this list because it is one of the few technologies and operating systems other than Windows and Office that still survives and heavily impacts our industry in some form today. In 1991, it was considered to be esoteric, expensive OS and hardware platform at the time with virtually no market share, 
    Based on the UNIX Mach microkernel, the 32-bit multitasking and object-oriented graphical NeXTStep operating system was considered one of the most advanced of its day. Up until the mid 1990s, it was tied entirely to the NeXT computer system, which was the hardware that was built by the company that was formed by Steve Jobs shortly after he was ejected by Apple's Board of Directors in 1985, not long after the introduction of the original Macintosh.
    While NeXT failed as a stand-alone company  (it stopped producing computers in 1994 and had to lay off most of its staff at the time) it did have an impressive set of development tools and an operating system (OpenStep, the BSD version of NeXTStep) that was valuable to an ailing Apple, which purchased the company in December of 1996. After a brief power struggle, Steve Jobs returned as CEO of Apple Computer in 1999.
    The rest, of course, is history. The technologies that Steve Jobs brought over with NeXT eventually evolved into what we now call Apple's Objective-C, XCode and Interface Builder development environment as well as Mac OS X and the iOS operating systems which run on today's Macintoshes, iPads, iPhones and iPods.  

    Towards the end of 1991 and up through it General Availability (GA) in 1992, IBM introduced the first major revision to its graphical OS/2 operating system, OS/2 2.0. Version 2.0 was a significant release because unlike DOS and Windows, it was a complete graphical OS that was capable of full pre-emptive, multi-threaded multitasking which run on Intel's 386 processor in full 32-bit protected mode using protected rather than the 16-bit shared memory model used by Windows. Because of this, OS/2 was an extremely stable operating system when compared to Windows 3.0 and DOS, which was known for its crashes during the early days of PC GUI computing.

    Unlike Windows 3.x's Program Manager, it also included an object-oriented desktop user interface known as the WorkPlace Shell (WPS) that allowed programs that were natively written for it to use re-usable software components. In many ways, the OS/2 WPS is still considered to be more advanced than what exists in modern versions of Windows today -- only Apple's Mac OS X and Linux's KDE 4.X environment comes comes close to exploiting object-oriented technology.
    OS/2 is also notable for being the first PC operating system to integrate built-in virtualization, which allowed the creation of Virtual DOS Machines (VDMs) with applications that could each have their own unique configuration settings as if they were running on completely different configured PCs, and as a DOS multi-tasking environment, it was the best in its class.
    OS/2 2.0 was also able to run Windows 3.0 applications, which was both a blessing and a curse. It ran Windows applications better than native Windows because it could run the programs in protected memory sessions, preventing them from crashing each other. However, because it was able to do this so well, there was very little incentive to create native OS/2 Presentation Manager applications themselves. 
    Although OS/2 2.0 was technically superior to DOS and Windows 3.0 in every aspect, it suffered from poor marketing, limited device driver support, and the fact that it needed more memory to run than a typical Windows PC at the time, so it was reserved for power users and specialized applications that needed OS/2's advanced capabilities and resiliency, Eventually, by the mid 1990s, much of the niche market that OS/2 occupied ended up being absorbed by Microsoft Windows NT. 


    » Return to ZDNet's 20th Anniversary Special


Topic: Apple


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • No mention of Mac OS?

    Seriously? You mentioned NeXT, OS/2, and a host of non-GUI programs but failed to mention Mac OS (aside from the brief mention of OS X in the NeXT description)?
    • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

      @ye: apple crybaby
      • LOL! That's a new one. Usually I'm branded a Windows shill.

        @poch333: <i>apple crybaby</i><br><br>And pointing out Mac OS is missing hardly qualifies as being a cry baby. Mac OS was an important part of history.
    • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

      @ye I agree, Macintosh had the GUI in 1984 and yet they get no mention of that. Then they show Photoshop and Corel Draw, both of which are on the Mac OS. What a bunch of poor research and writing.
    • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

      @ye NeXT IS Mac OS X. I also discussed system 7 on the slide about Photoshop.
      • I said Mac OS, not OS X.

        @jperlow: [i]NeXT IS Mac OS X.[/i]

        Mac OS pre-dated OS X by approximately 17 years. I think it was a gross omission.

        [i] I also discussed system 7 on the slide about Photoshop.[/i]

        And? A cursory mention is all you can give it? IMO Mac OS was certainly deserving of its own mention. Especially when you spoke to DOS, DESQView, Lotus 1-2-3, dBase, WordPerfect , etc which aren't even GUI programs.
      • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)


        Yes but you imply that the first GUI OS was made in 1991, and that is not even close to being accurate.
  • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

    In 1993 I was using Lotus 1-2-3 2.2 to generate data I would copy and paste into Lotus Freelance 3.01 for DOS to generate charts that I would save as .EPS files before importing them into WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS.

    In 2011 I use MS Excel to generate data that I copy and paste into PowerPoint to generate charts that I export as enhanced Windows metafiles that I import into Word documents.

    The more things change....

    (OLE has never worked, ever, for anyone!)
    • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

      @meyestone <br><br>In 1993 I was doing the same as you.<br><br>But in 2011 my life is very different from yours. OLE works for me and gets used occasionally. But I don't need OLE all the time, since each of the Office apps is so powerful that I can often use one to do the whole job (especially Excel, which does deep analysis and can present to results beautifully).<br><br>Finally, the object model behind Office allows us to automate the process of making the tools work together. An Excel workbook which with one click creates a complete presentation in PowerPoint (using a PowerPoint template embedded with the OLE - which works just fine).<br><br>One could say. "In 1993 we typed on a keyboard and saw the result on a video monitor. And that is exactly the same as we do today". Equally you can make what we both did with 1-2-3, Freelance and WordPerfect sound like what we do today. But in my case, it is totally different.
  • 1984 was the year the world got GUI

    Hey folks, I know that XEROX's PARC has GUI goodies running before 1984, but that was the date that Macintosh brought GUI to the world. I'm a Windows guy, and even I know that :-)
    • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

      @SteveMak - Mac *popularised* the GUI to the world; however, as you acknowledge, Apple most certainly weren't the first, contrary to what most Mac users seem to have been brainwashed to think.

      The Xerox Alto launched in **1973** with a full GUI (icons, windows, scrollbars etc), mouse and ethernet networking (the latter of which Apple didn't add to the Mac for years, believing the floppy disk to be an acceptable alternative!).

      That said, I agree the title of this article is bizarre - I don't see how 1991 was a particularly important milestone in the history of GUIs! :/
      • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

        @techrepublic@... How many did they sell to the general public? Exactly ZERO.


        The Xerox Alto was an early personal computer developed at Xerox PARC in 1973. It was the first computer to use the desktop metaphor and mouse-driven graphical user interface (GUI).

        It was not a commercial product, but several thousand units were built and were heavily used at PARC, other Xerox facilities, and at several universities for many years. The Alto greatly influenced the design of personal computers in the following decades, notably the Apple Macintosh and the first Sun workstations. It is now very rare and is a valuable collector's item.
    • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

      The "ALL" part of the title makes it clear that the assumption is that most people started using GUI through Microsoft software. Which is true given Microsoft's popularity. Therefore the article is not about the year GUI was invented, but more about when GUI became accessible to everyone.
  • Novell

    I think one of the things that caused Novell to shrink in its market share was the lack of a GUI long after Win 95 came out. The menu driven system was good if you knew what parts of the menu tree to use for different functions; but it was distracting to have to exit a submenu and move to different submenus in a heirarchical way that was rigid.
    • Novell

      @sboverie@... lack of a GUI

      Well you are talking about a NOS here, not your standard desktop. I was maintaining a OS/2 network and several Novell networks at the same time and it was far easier to navigate around the Novell admin programs than OS/2. A GUI didn't really do anything to help the server.
  • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

    The Atari and Amiga had it long before!
    • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

      @kjrider@... Absolutely. I was using GUI based Dr. T's Tiger sequencing software on the Atari 1040st around '88 or '89, not to mention other software for graphics, word processing and spreadsheet/data base.
  • And what about GEOS?

    GEOS OS for the Commodore 64 was relased in 1986. No love for the Commodore either.
  • OS/2 is still used in some

    Up until 1998 I was consulting for a major utility company which was deploying new custom software to over 3,000 OS/2 warp desktop computers. I'm certain that OS/2 still dominates the desktop there, perhaps it's unusual.

    As recently as a few years ago I was able to find OS/2 drivers for modern hardware and install OS/2 Warp 4 on a desktop.. No sound card support, but I found network drivers.
  • RE: 1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

    I was using GS/OS (on the Apple ][GS) in 1987. And, as everyone knows, Mac's GUI came out in 1984. I didn't use Windows as my primary OS until around 92 or 93, but by then, I'd been using GUI's for 5 or 6 years. Also, Windows 1.0 came out in 1985, so I'm not sure what the significance of 1991 is in regards to GUIs. The "world" was certainly "introduced" to GUIs when the Mac came out in 1984.
    Software Architect 1982