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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary
Macintosh user interface
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operating system The graphical user interface used by
based on graphical representations of familiar office objects
(sheets of paper, files, wastepaper bin, etc.) positioned on a
two-dimensional "desktop" workspace.
Programs and data files are represented on screen by small
pictures (icons). An object is selected by moving a mouse
over the real desktop which correspondingly moves the
pointer on screen. When the pointer is over an icon on
screen, the icon is selected by pressing the button on the
A hierarchical file system is provided that lets a user
"drag" a document (a file) icon into and out of a folder
(directory) icon. Folders can also contain other folders and
so on. To delete a document, its icon is dragged into a
trash can icon. For people that are not computer
enthusiasts, managing files on the Macintosh is easier than
The Macintosh always displays a row of menu titles at the top
of the screen. When a mouse button is pressed over a title, a
pull-down menu appears below it. With the mouse button held
down, the option within the menu is selected by pointing to it
and then releasing the button.
Unlike the IBM PC, which, prior to Microsoft Windows had
no standard graphical user interface, Macintosh developers
almost always conform to the Macintosh interface. As a
result, users are comfortable with the interface of a new
program from the start even if it takes a while to learn all
the rest of it. They know there will be a row of menu options
at the top of the screen, and basic tasks are always performed
in the same way. Apple also keeps technical jargon down to a
Although the Macintosh user interface provides consistency; it
does not make up for an application program that is not
designed well. Not only must the application's menus be clear
and understandable, but the locations on screen that a user
points to must be considered. Since the mouse is the major
selecting method on a Macintosh, mouse movement should be kept
to a minimum. In addition, for experienced typists, the mouse
is a cumbersome substitute for well-designed keyboard
commands, especially for intensive text editing.
Urban legned has it that the Mac user interface was copied
from Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. Although it is
true that Xerox's smalltalk had a GUI and Xerox introduced
some GUI concepts commercially on the Xerox Star computer in
1981, and that Steve Jobs and members of the Mac and Lisa
project teams visited PARC, Jef Raskin, who created the Mac
project, points out that many GUI concepts which are now
considered fundamental, such as dragging objects and pull-down
menus with the mouse, were actually invented at Apple.
Pull-down menus have become common on IBM, Commodore and
Hewlett-Packard's New Wave, the X Window System, RISCOS and many other programs and operating environments also
incorporate some or all of the desktop/mouse/icon features.
Apple Computer have tried to prevent other companies from
using some GUI concepts by taking legal action against them.
It is because of such restrictive practises that organisations
such as the Free Software Foundation previously refused to
support ports of their software to Apple machines, though this
ban has now been lifted. [Why? When?]