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Which Came First? The Apple or the Window?

With the recent release of Vista, the new Windows operating system, the old debate about PC's and Apple has come to the publics attention once again. The world's richest man, Bill Gates, answered some questions from Newsweek magazine. A little research did unearth some interesting facts.

In many of the Vista reviews, even the positive ones, people note that some Vista features are already in the Mac operating system.
"You can go through and look at who showed any of these things first, if you care about the facts. If you just want to say, "Steve Jobs invented the world, and then the rest of us came along," that's fine. If you’re interested, [Vista development chief] Jim Allchin will be glad to educate you feature by feature what the truth is. I mean, it’s fascinating, maybe we shouldn't have showed so publicly the stuff we were doing, because we knew how long the new security base was going to take us to get done. Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine. So, yes, it took us longer, and they had what we were doing, user interface-wise. Let’s be realistic, who came up with [the] file, edit, view, help [menu bar]? Do you want to go back to the original Mac and think about where those interface concepts came from?"

So what is the truth?

The GUI had its roots in the 1950s but was not developed until the 1970s when a group at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) developed the Alto, a GUI-based computer. The Alto was the size of a large desk, and Xerox believed it unmarketable. Jobs took a tour of PARC in 1979, and saw the future of personal computing in the Alto. Although much of the Interface of both the Lisa and the Mac was based (at least intellectually) heavily on the work done at PARC, and many of the engineers there later left to join Apple, much of the Mac OS was written before Job's visit to PARC. When Jobs accused Bill Gates of Microsoft of stealing the GUI from Apple and using it in Windows 1.0, Gates fired back:

No, Steve, I think its more like we both have a rich neighbor named Xerox, and you broke in to steal the TV set, and you found out I'd been there first, and you said. "Hey that's no fair! I wanted to steal the TV set!

The fact that both Apple and Microsoft had gotten the idea of the GUI from Xerox put a major dent in Apple's lawsuit against Microsoft over the GUI several years later. Although much of The Mac OS is original, it was similar enough to the old Alto GUI to make a "look and feel" suit against Microsoft dubious.


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