Photo: Raymond Kleboe/Picture Post/Getty Images
Photo: Raymond Kleboe/Picture Post/Getty Images

The Ferranti Mark 1 was the first commercially available general-purpose computer. The one shown in this 1955 photo—a slightly improved model known as the Ferranti Mark 1*—was used to help forecast election results, calculate wages, and produce actuarial tables, among other things.

Based on the Manchester Mark 1 and built by Ferranti Ltd., the huge machine was housed in two spacious bays, each 5 meters long, 2.4 meters high, and 1 meter wide, with a control desk at one end. Inside were 4,000 electronic valves (or vacuum tubes), 2,500 capacitors, 15,000 resistors, and nearly 10 kilometers of wiring. It consumed 27 kilowatts of power and operated at a base clock frequency of 100 kilohertz.

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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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