Illustrations of early media computing systems - now in high resolution


1972-1973: Dick Shoup creates SuperPaint, the first complete 8-bit paint system, including hardware and software, at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). This black and white illustration shows SuperPaint menu in 1975. For detailed history of early paint systems, see Alvy Ray Smith, Digital Paint Systems: An Anecdotal and Historical Overview, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 2011. We scaled the original illustration to the larger size of 2667 x 2000 pixels and cleaned up the result, so everything looks sharp.

Download high resolution image: 2667 x 2000 pixels.

My new book Software Takes Command discusses key computer systems from the 1960s-1970s that led to modern media authoring software (Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, etc.) As I was looking for illustrations of these systems, I was struck by the quality of documentation which survived.

There are a number of video clips showing Skecthpad (for example, this 10 minute TV show) and Xerox Alto in action. We also have full video of Douglas Engelbart' famous 1968 90 minute demo of his NLS system (which came to be called The Mother of All Demos).

These clips are invaluable because they allow us to see these systems in action, and to understand their innovations. But the resolution of all of them is low, and details are hard to see. There are a few illustrations in the articles and technical papers that were published about these systems, but their digital copies available online do not reproduce them well.

Together with Jay Chow (researcher at Software Studies Initiative), we took the best available images, scaled them up and cleaned the results in Photoshop and Illustrator. They appear in my book, but you can also download our high-resolution image files right here. Since I know that many people discuss these early media computing systems in their classes in a number of fields - software art, human computer interaction, media history, media archeology, etc. - I hope that these high resolution images will be useful. I have also added he descriptions of the corresponding systems/concepts from my book next to images.

Ivan Sutherland. "Sketchpad: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System." 1963. Frames from Sketchpad demo video illustrating the program’s use of constraints. Left column: a user selects parts of a drawing. Right column: Sketchpad automatically adjusts the drawing. (The captured frames were edited in Photoshop to show the Sketchpad screen more clearly.)

"Created by Sutherland as a part of his PhD thesis at MIT, Sketchpad deeply influenced all subsequent work in computational media (including that of Kay) not only because it was the first interactive media authoring program but also because it made it clear that computer simulations of physical media can add many exciting new properties to the media being simulated. In Sutherland’s own words, “The major feature which distinguishes a Sketchpad drawing from a paper and pencil drawing is the user’s ability to specify to Sketchpad mathematical conditions on already drawn parts of his drawing which will be automatically satisfied by the computer to make the drawing take the exact shape desired.” For instance, if a user drew a few lines, and then gave the appropriate command, Sketchpad automatically moved these lines until they were parallel to each other. If a user gave a different command and selected a particular line, Sketchpad moved the lines in such a way so they would parallel to each other and perpendicular to the selected line."

Download the full resolution image: 2932 x 4374 pixels.


Examples of “view control” as implemented in Douglas Engelbart' NLS. During the demo, Engelbart shows how the same information can be presented in multiple ways. Top left: a hierarchical view of a shopping list. Top right: a collapsed view sorted by location. Bottom: a graph view showing the sequence of locations. (Text and graphics were traced from the original video of Engelbart’s 1968 demo.)

"As Engelbart points out, the new writing medium could switch at the user’s wish between many different views of the same information. A text file could be sorted in different ways. It could also be organized as a hierarchy with a number of levels, as in outline processors or outlining mode of contemporary word processors such as Microsoft Word. For example, a list of items can be organized by categories and individual categories can be collapsed and expanded. Engelbart next shows another example of view control, which today, forty-five years after his demo, is still not available in popular document management software. He makes a long 'to do' list and organizes it by locations. He then instructs the computer to display these locations as a visual graph (a set of points connected by lines.) In front of our eyes, representation in one medium changes into another medium—text becomes a graph."

Download the full resolution image: 1287 x 1768 pixels.

A diagram of the Xerox Star UI from D. Smith, C. Irby, R. Kimball, B. Verplank, B., E. Harslem, “Designing the Star User Interface,” Byte, vol. 7, issue 4 (1982), 242–82. The universal commands are located in the dedicated keyword on the left part of the keyboard. (The original illustration from the article was redrawn in Illustrator.)

"Let us look at contemporary omnipresent Copy, Cut and Paste commands. These operations already existed in some computer text editors in the 1960s. In 1974–1975 Larry Tesler implemented these commands in a text editor as part of Xerox PARC’s work on a personal computer. Recognizing that these commands can be used in all types of applications, the designers of Xerox Star (released in 1981) put dedicated keys for these commands in a special keypad. The keypad contained keys marked Again, Find, Same, Open, Delete, Copy, Merge, and Move. A user could select any object in an application or on the desktop and then select one of these commands. Xerox PARC team called them “universal commands.” Apple similarly made these commands available in all applications running under its unified GUI but got rid of the dedicated keys. Instead, the commands were placed under the Edit pull-down menu."

Download the full resolution image: 4000 x 5800 pixels.

P.S. You can also find many high quality images of early computer hardware and other artifacts in the online exhibition of Computer History Museum.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.