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1964 Ad Flashback: When Analog Computers Walked the Earth

To solve engineering problems, the go-to machine used to be analog, not digital

1 min read
Photo: Ben Alsop
Photo: Ben Alsop

Many of the first practical nonhuman computers were analog machines, most famously the mechanical Differential Analyzer built by Vannevar Bush in 1931. Even after digital computers arrived, analog computers remained popular into the 1970s, especially for simulations (they were used to drive flight simulators for the X-15 [pdf] rocket plane and early spacecraft). And innovation continued well beyond the Differential Analyzer’s wheels and cogs. As advertised in March 1964, this PACE TR-48 analog computer was not only “fully transistorized” but also mobile—once you put it on its stand and pushed it to another electrical outlet.

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How the Graphical User Interface Was Invented

Three decades of UI research came together in the mice, windows, and icons used today

18 min read
Stylized drawing of a desktop computer with mouse and keyboard, on the screen are windows, Icons, and menus
Getty Images/IEEE Spectrum

Mice, windows, icons, and menus: these are the ingredients of computer interfaces designed to be easy to grasp, simplicity itself to use, and straightforward to describe. The mouse is a pointer. Windows divide up the screen. Icons symbolize application programs and data. Menus list choices of action.

But the development of today’s graphical user interface was anything but simple. It took some 30 years of effort by engineers and computer scientists in universities, government laboratories, and corporate research groups, piggybacking on each other’s work, trying new ideas, repeating each other’s mistakes.

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