Which Computer Was The First To Sport A GUI Desktop?
Answer: The Xero Alto
The virtual desktop interface is so firmly embedded into the modern computer user’s experience it’s difficult to imagine sitting down at a computer without it. Life wasn’t always point and click, drag and drop, and easy to identify and manipulate icons, however. Prior to the research and development that took place at Xerox PARC in the 1970s there had never been a computer with a screen-as-desktop metaphor and a mouse system to drive a point and click cursor.
Building on the theoretical and concrete work of computer visionary Douglas Engelbart–who built a working mouse and prototypical but primitive GUI in the 1960s but never combined them with the goal of creating a simple user interface–the researchers at Xerox Parc, many of whom had worked for Engelbart, succeeded in creating the first computer system driven by a simple point and click interface for Xerox’s Alto computer.
Although 2,000 Alto units were produced the system was never commercialized–all the units were used in-house and at collaborating universities and research institutions. Commercialization came later with the Star 8010, a direct descendant of the the Alto, in 1981. While Star was ultimately a commercial failure it did introduce many concepts to the market which we continue to enjoy today such as easy mouse-to-GUI interactions, WYSIWYG document editing, Ethernet, and various network services.