Vintage ad for Victrola
Photo: Randi Klett

At the start of the 20th century, the phonograph industry was the second-fastest growing in the United States, trailing only automobiles. Victrola gramophones played black discs formulated from slate powder and the resinous secretions of lac insects. A standard 25-centimeter disc held 3 minutes of sound. But the real profits lay in Victor’s 30-cm Red Seal recordings of classical performers; tenor Enrico Caruso [far left in this December 1920 ad] was a favorite. As music formats have morphed from vinyl discs to cassettes to CDs and MP3s, the classical recording industry is nearly extinct. With sound streamed from the cloud, do you really need to own the music you listen to?

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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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