MOD EDIT: Split off from the "Rant" thread.
Originally Posted by skidude
I missed the one about the computer monitors, I haven't been around much lately. It amazes me how many people don't understand that. I have a 4x3 monitor I use at work and I rotate the display and monitor so it's actually 3x4 and it's great! People think I'm weird but it works.
I hate to pecker up my own rant thread with serious discussion, but you're not weird.
The very first* computer ever to be designed around a graphical user interface was the Alto, developed in 1973 by Xerox PARC. This machine introduced a whole slew of innovative features which were genuinely new in computing. The Alto was the first modern computer designed for use by a single operator. It included a mouse, used a "desktop" format similar to (and the direct inspiration for) both the Mac and Windows operating systems, featured WYSIWYG composition, had an optional laser printer (which they had to invent specifically for the Alto), was the first ever application of ethernet, and pretty much changed the entire world.
And here's the kicker: Xerox fitted the machine with a monochrome CRT display of approximately 10:16 aspect ratio. That's right, the monitor on the Alto was mounted in the portrait orientation!
So as it turns out, the GUI itself was inherently designed to be applied in a portrait-oriented presentation, and that we've all been ******* it up ever since.
Then why did all subsequent computer manufacturers (including standard-makers Apple and IBM) elect to use a 4:3 display? Cost. Creating custom CRTs of the sort used in the Alto was excruciatingly expensive. Of course, that didn't matter to PARC, since they were all a bunch of idealistic techno-hippies, and everything
about the Alto was insanely expensive. (When it founded PARC, Xerox forgot to specifically instruct the engineers to invent things that were practical to build and sell.)
By comparison, the same companies which had been manufacturing 4:3 CRTs for use in television sets for years found it easy to supply tubes in this format to both manufacturers of industrial and scientific equipment as well as the early computer-makers. They could have elected to rotate the deflection coils 90° to achieve 3:4, but for some reason this never happened. In fact, the first two commercial arcade games (Computer Space and Pong) literally used a standard store-bought television set as their display.)
It's kind of like the old story about why railroad tracks are spaced 4 ft 8½ in apart. We got ourselves locked into an arbitrary standard developed by William Dickson in 1892 (the aspect ratio which results from a four-perf frame in a 35mm Edison movie camera) and when we finally decided to break free of it, we forgot the reason for its existence in the first place and expanded the screen in the wrong direction.
* = Technically, the first GUI ever created took form in 1968. In December of that year, visionary Douglas Engelbart gave a demonstration at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco which has come to be called The Mother of All Demos
. As was his style, this demo was not meant to reflect a specific product or technology, but rather to inspire other engineers to apply his ideas in their own designs. MoAD showcased a number of concepts which we now know by names such as word processing, hypertext, videoconferencing, dynamic linking, and collaborative editing.
Reflecting the technological capabilities of the day, however, the "computer" used by Engelbart during this demonstration was not a single machine running an operating system in the modern context. Rather, it relied upon an array of special-purpose hardware and software created specifically for the task of presenting the demonstration, and the graphical display itself was controlled in real-time by a video operator using an analog mixer, similar to those used in television news control rooms to composite video from multiple sources (studio cameras, videotape, character generators, chroma-key, etc) into a single finished product.
Incidentally, it was in this same year that Alan Kay, who would later become one of the lead developers of the Alto, invented the tablet PC. He called it the Dynabook
, and originally envisioned it as a learning tool for children.
Suck on that, Apple.