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High-speed electronics require clocks that must be calibrated to precise standards. Once, the ultimate standard was based on astronomical observations. But in the mid-1950s, the first reliable atomic clocks were constructed and enthusiastically adopted: This ad for a portable atomic clock—weighing only 14 kilograms and with an 8-hour battery life—was published in April 1967, the same year the second was redefined in terms of the electronic transitions of a cesium atom. But atomic clocks didn’t really get much more portable than this until 2011, following a breakthrough that squeezed an atomic clock down to the size of a computer chip—leading to, among other things, the world’s first atomic pocket watch.

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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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