Rediscovering the Remarkable Engineers Behind Olivetti’s ELEA 9003

A new graphic novel explores the forgotten history of the ELEA 9003, one of the first transistorized digital computers

3 min read
Frames from the comic. When interviewing job candidates, Olivetti’s Mario Tchou posed intellectually challenging questions.
Illustration: Ciaj Rocchi and Matteo Demonte, courtesy of La Lettura/Il Corriere della Sera

The Chinese-Italian engineer Mario Tchou was, by all accounts, brilliant. Born and raised in Italy and educated in the United States, he led the Olivetti company’s ambitious effort to build a completely transistorized mainframe computer in the late 1950s. During Mario’s tenure, Olivetti successfully launched the ELEA 9003 mainframe and founded one of the first transistor companies. And yet, even in Italy, his story is not well known.

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