With the notable exception of mobile computing, not much has changed in how we interface with computers since the development of the mouse andgraphical user interface (GUI) over forty years ago. In fact, nearly two generations of users have no idea that at one time the only way to access the power of a room-sized computer was to feed a stack of punched cards into a reader and examine pages of printed output. Nor do they know that next came monochrome terminals and command line input, which somehow has continued to live on for system administrators, Linux users and others today. Of course, the big breakthrough that brought the power of desktop computing to the masses was the invention of the mouse and GUI by Douglas Engelbart in the 1960s, while he was working at the Stanford Research Institute on a U.S. Department of Defense grant. Engelbart's work directly led to advances at Xerox PARC, who in 1973 developed the Alto computer, shown in Figure 1. During that time the first GUI was developed by Alan Kay, Larry Tesler, Dan Ingalls, David Smith, Clarence Ellis and several other researchers. A sample screenshot from a UI version known as SmallTalk-76.
Some may remember the transition from the command line interface, but few remember that the mouse and GUI languished in obscurity for over twenty years prior to the mainstream interest that came with the 1984 introduction of the Apple Macintosh desktop computer. Public acceptance and demand finally occurred because of the rise of a “killer” application (desktop publishing), effective marketing by Apple, and porting of successful programs to GUI interfaces. Are we at another inflection point today? Many claim that Virtual and Augmented reality are the “future” of how humans will interact with computers, but even though “modern” VR/AR technology has been available for over a decade, that revolution hasn’t yet occurred. Are we waiting for the killer application or do we need a hardware breakthrough like the iPhone? The author examines those questions and presents evidence that, yes, this is the beginning of the end for our rodent friend.