Speaking of the Xerox Alto – let’s move on a few years and talk about the Xerox Star, its successor and, like the Alto, one of the most influential computers ever made. There’s this great demo up on YouTube, where some of its creators walk you through the basics of using the Xerox Star, from basic filing, down to the included virtual keyboard which could display any keyboard layout you wanted – including things like Japanese or a math panel.
I love watching videos of the Xerox Star in action, because it shows you just how little the basic concepts of the graphical user interfaces we use every day – OS X/Windows or iOS/Android or whatever – have changed since the ’70s, when Xerox invented all the basic parts of it. Of course, it has been refined over the decades, but the basic structure and most important elements have changed little.
Like still relying on shoehorning a timesharing punchcard mainframe operating system onto a phone, we still rely on the same old Xerox concepts of icons and windows and dialogs on our phones as well. Hardware has progressed at an incredibly pace – we have watches tons more powerful than 100 Xerox Stars combined – but software, including UI, has not kept up.
We should have better by now.