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1991: The Year We All Got GUI (photos)

ZDNet's 20th anniversary: In 1991, the world received the graphical user interface. Here's a look.
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1 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

In 1991, PCs predominantly ran on Microsoft's DOS Operating System. Unlike today, where the GUI (Graphical User Interface) is taken for granted in PCs for the OS and applications, the GUI and the OS were separate products. Extremely primitive by today's standards, DOS was a 16-Bit character-mode OS and had no built-in multitasking capabilities. It also used an unjournaled 16-bit directory-based filesystem, FAT, which was used on both floppy and hard disks and had an 11 character limit for filenames, hence the "8.3" file format with names such as AUTOEXEC.BAT. 
 
In addition to Microsoft's DOS, IBM had it's own version, PC-DOS, that ran specifically on its PS/2 personal computers. Digital Research, which pioneered in the late 1970's with the forerunner to DOS, CP/M, also released its own DOS-compatible OS, DR-DOS, and eventually ended being owned by Novell and later, SCO.
 
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2 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

Developed by Quarterdeck Office Systems, DESQView was a popular "Shell" for DOS which enabled a primitive form of multi-tasking of applications. This allowed popular productivity applications such as Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect and Harvard Graphics to be task-switched. In combination with a special memory manager known as QEMM on Intel 286, 386 and 486-baeed PCs, it allowed users to take advantage of more than 640K of memory and have several applications running in resident memory simultaneously. 
 
DESQView, which was released in July 1985 -- only a few months before the release of Windows 1.0, was not the first task switcher for PC's -- that distinction goes to IBM's TopView, which never particularly caught on. DESQView itself would soon find itself in competition with Windows 386 and in 1990, Windows 3.0, which was a true, although non-preemptive multitasking GUI. By 1992, Quarterdeck did eventually release a full GUI version, of DESQView/X, but by then it was too late -- Microsoft had seized control of both the OS and GUI market for DOS with Windows 3.1 and its Office suite of native applications.
 
 
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3 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

Perhaps the first "Killer App" for PC's, Lotus' 1-2-3 character mode DOS spreadsheet was still king in 1991, even though Microsoft's Excel had already been out for several years on Windows, Mac and OS/2. In 1989, Lotus released 1-2-3 version 2.2, which used "Expanded Memory" in order for users to take advantage of the larger memory capabilities of the Intel 286 and 386 chips.
 
In 1990, Lotus 1-2-3 had a 54 percent share of the market, with Microsoft way in behind at 12 percent. Lotus 1-2-3 had numerous competitors in the space, including Borland's Quattro Pro. While 1-2-3 continued to be popular for many years, eventually, its dominance came to an end with the rise of Windows 3.1 and Excel.
 
Lotus eventually produced a graphical version for Windows as part of its SmartSuite series of office suites (which included the Ami Pro word processor and the Freelance Graphics presentation application) but it never was able to to return to its glory days and its market share waned.
 
Today, Lotus 1-2-3's spirit lives on as the Spreadsheet app IBM's Symphony 3 office suite, which is a cross-platform free product that runs on Windows, Linux and Mac.
 
 
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4 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

While the name is virtually unknown today, Ashton-Tate was a prosperous software company in its day. Its flagship product, dBase, was the first widely-used database management system (DBMS) for PCs. Like Lotus 1-2-3, it was a character-mode app. dBase was a hierarchical database, in that it organizes data in a tree-like structure. Prior to the introduction of PC databases such as Borland's Paradox, Clipper, FoxPro and Microsoft Access which introduced relational database capability into their products, dBase was considered to be one of the most important and popular productivity apps.
 
Numerous clones of dBase, known collectively as "xBase" were all over the market.  
 
In 1991, Ashton-Tate merged with Borland, a company primarily known for its development of its C++ and Pascal language products. dBase's and xBase-type systems fell in popularity when the industry moved to Microsoft Access, Visual FoxPro and SQL-based systems using client-server technology. 
 
 
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5 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

Long before there was PowerPoint, there was Harvard Graphics. If you wanted to do presentation graphics with charts and graphs -- the types of things we take for granted today, you had to go to the Software Publishing Corporation (SPC). 
 
First released in 1986, Harvard Graphics could import data from Lotus 1-2-3, and export graphics so that word processing programs could embed them in documents. While extremely primitive by today's standards with modern presentation applications such as Microsoft PowerPoint, OpenOffice/LibreOffice Present, IBM Lotus Symphony Presentations or Apple's Keynote, it was an important component of the 1990-1991 office productivity repertoire until PowerPoint took the stage. SPC and Harvard Graphics was purchased by British company Serif in 2001.
 
 
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6 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

While Microsoft Word for Windows is the dominant word processing package today, in 1991 it was only a very minor player. For any serious word processing, WordPerfect Corporation's word processor, which ran as a character mode application like Lotus 1-2-3, was the go-to app for many businesses and professionals.
 
WordPerfect and its file format continued to have a strong following even after Word for Windows started gaining popularity because even though it was not a WYSIWYG graphical application (although later versions could switch between character and graphical mode) you had very precise control over formatting when producing complex documents using the system's "reveal codes" feature. 
 
WordPerfect was late in getting a Windows version of their product out, and thus popularity of their product eventually waned in favor of Microsoft Word. Eventually, WordPerfect was sold off to Novell, and then to Corel Corporation, which still maintains a current version of the product.
 
 
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7 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

 
In 1991, if you were running a personal computer network in your business or enterprise, there was a good chance it was running on Novell's NetWare, which was the predominant server-based network operating system at the time. Released in both 16-bit and 32-bit versions for the 286 and 386 Intel processors, 1990's era NetWare ran on a proprietary protocol called IPX, which ran on on Local Area Networks using Ethernet, Arcnet or IBM Token-Ring topologies. NetWare was known for its excellent network performance, server reliability, fault tolerance and OS stability, as well as its relatively easy administration, which helped it maintain its market position for many years.
 
Novell had several competitors in the space, such as IBM OS/2 LAN Manager and Banyan-Vines, but none of them were ever as popular as the NetWare stack. However, with the release of Microsoft's Windows for Workgroups 3.1 in 1992 and Windows NT operating system in the summer of 1993, companies quickly began to shift to a fully integrated, single-vendor Client and Server OS solution for their networks.
 
Still, even today, many companies still maintain legacy NetWare systems. NetWare continued to be developed until 2003, where it was superseded by Open Enterprise Server (OES), a network operating system which runs on top of Linux.
 
In November of 2010, Novell was acquired by Attachmate, for $1 Billion.
 
 
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8 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

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.
 
 
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9 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

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.  
 
 
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10 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

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. 

 

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11 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

While Microsoft launched the first version of Windows in late 1985, the product never really took off until version 3.0 launched in 1990, which introduced a number of key improvements, the most important being the use of virtual memory and virtual device drivers. With version 3.0, Windows applications could now run in Protected Mode on 286 and 386 Intel chips that now allowed Windows GUI applications to have access to several megabytes of memory when using DOS's EMM386 memory manager. 
 
While Windows 3.0 was nowhere near as sophisticated as IBM's OS/2, it won because of Microsoft's superior marketing and its ability to get ISV's to write thousands of applications for it and provide their own popular suite of applications for it, Microsoft Office. By the end of 1990, the company had sold well over a million copies, and over the next decade, Microsoft became many billions of dollars wealthier from expanding its consumer and enterprise Windows businesses.
 
 
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12 of 15 Jason Perlow/ZDNET

 

Microsoft Office for Windows is notable because in 1990, it was the first time that a Word Processor, a Spreadsheet and a Presentation Graphics application -- Word, Excel and PowerPoint -- were bundled together in a "Suite". Along with Windows 3.0, it provided the basis for a 20-year long multi-billion dollar business that continues until this day. The first version of Office is also notable because it was also among the first of Microsoft's products to include Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) that allows embedding and linking of data between documents, such as the ability to insert and update a linked Excel spreadsheet inside a Word document.

 

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Considered the first true "Killer App" for the Macintosh System 7 platform, Adobe Photoshop was first released in 1990. Over the last 20 years, it has become the de-facto graphics editing package for content creation professionals and photographers, and one of the anchors of Adobe's Creative Suite (CS). Photoshop 2.0 was released in June of 1992, including support for CMYK color and EPS rasterization. The first Windows version appeared in late 1992, with version 2.5.

 

 

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Much as Photoshop became one of the most important graphics editing tools, the same could be said for CorelDRAW, a vector graphics drawing package which was released for Windows 2.0 by Canadian firm Corel in 1989. However, 1991 marked the release of version 2, which added support for "Envelope" (for distorting objects using a primary shape), Blend (morphing), Extrusion (simulating perspective and volume in objects) and Perspective (distort objects along X and Y axes). 

 

 

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While we may take interesting and mesmerizing screen savers for granted today, back in the late 80s and early 90's, they were pretty boring, until After Dark, published by Berkeley Systems came along. After Dark made saving your CRT from burn-in fun -- and no single screen saver from After Dark has become more iconic than the Flying Toasters, which featured 1940's-era chrome toasters with flapping wings moving across the screen to the theme of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries.
 
After Dark was initially released in 1989 for the Mac, but was ported to Microsoft Windows 3.11 in 1992 for their 2.0 release, and the company released several add-ons for the product to add new screen savers, such as for Star Trek and Disney-themed modules.
 
The assets of Berkeley Systems were eventually sold to game developer Sierra On-Line, a division of CUC International in 1997, which was later as a result of complex business transactions merged into Vivendi's Activision division in 1998.
 
 

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