The Desktop Metaphor


Video Script

On the previous page in NLS was a very revolutionary system. Unfortunately, it was very hard for the average user to use. And so it really never could gain that mainstream reputation that it wanted. So we had to come up with an easier way to use modern computer systems.

And as the story goes, and engineer one day was staring at the top of his desk thinking about how to solve this problem, and that solution came to be known as the desktop metaphor. What if we build a computer system that looks and acts and feels like the things that we’re used to in the real world, we can have a desktop with different things open on it as we’re working. We can have files and folders full of files that allow us to organize information, and we can move things around quickly and easily to get us different views of the same thing.

This is what most modern computer systems were built around, and it was first introduced all the way back in 1970. This picture shown here is from the Xerox star workstation in 1981, which was one of the first real mainstream computers to use the desktop metaphor. Of course, in those days, one of the things that computer companies were really well known for is borrowing or stealing other ideas from other companies. And so Apple stole basically the same desktop metaphor idea for its Macintosh desktop from 1984.

And there’s always been a little bit of discussion about who actually came up with it first, this was actually dramatized in a TV series called The Pirates of Silicon Valley. So let’s take a look at a short clip from that TV show to give you an idea of what things were kind of like at that time.