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A lot of software has a menu bar that starts with File, Edit, View, etc. Who did this first? Is there any evolution behind this?

  • 1
    Great question. My first inclination is to go dig up some Apple Lisa screens, but I wouldn't be surprised if it started at the PARC. – plainclothes Nov 30 '15 at 6:57
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The menu bar at the top, if not invented by Apple, was popularized by Apple with their Lisa computer in 1983. The Lisa's (and Mac's) UI was inspired by the WIMP interfaces created at Xerox PARC but had some notable differences. One of these differences was that the XEROX systems used 3 button mice and the command idiom was via a popup menu, while the Lisa/Mac had one button mice which didn't afford popping up menus, instead commands were via menus that pulled down from the menu bar at the top.

In the Xerox PARC systems the object oriented paradigm was pervasive, so popping up a menu on a screen object and selecting a menu item mapped nicely to object -> message.

Apple didn't adopt this pervasive OO metaphor, and grouped actions (commands) into groups. Almost all applications need the basics of "open" and "close", etc. so the "File" menu held those. "Cut", "copy", and "paste" were also very common actions, and it was conventional to have an "Edit" menu for that. Apple's Finder program set the pattern of "File", "Edit", and "View" menus and Mac programs tended to follow those conventions.

Microsoft copied the conventions of a "File" and "Edit" menu in Windows, but MS put a menu bar at the top of (almost) every window, not at the top of the screen.

Xerox Smalltalk system ~ 1980:

Xerox Smalltalk

Apple Lisa ~ 1983:

Apple Lisa

Apple Mac ~ 1984:

Apple Mac

Microsoft Windows ~ 1985:

Windows 1.0

  • I knew the Lisa deserved some credit :-) – plainclothes Dec 2 '15 at 19:02
  • You can also see an overview of the Lisa interface, along with screenshots, over at DigiBarn. Note how the Mac’s File menu started its life as ‘File/Print’. This indicates to me that ‘File’ was meant as a verb, like the other menu groups. Interestingly, I couldn’t find the File menu in the oldest photos of the Lisa; to be fair, though, the menu labels are quite hard to read in those photos. – David Regev Dec 3 '15 at 2:43
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IBM's Common User Access specification in 1987 had a role in standardizing many of the menu items we are accustomed to seeing today.

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Taking reference from this article here, and extending the same -

"The name folder, presenting an analogy to the file folder used in offices, and used in a hierarchical file system design for the Electronic Recording Machine, Accounting (ERMA) Mark 1 published in 1958 as well as by Xerox Star,[4] is used in almost all modern operating systems' desktop environments. Folders are often depicted with icons which visually resemble physical file folders."

1) The inspiration of the functionality/naming convention like: File, Folders, View, Edit etc seems very much to be the mimicking of the desk drawer/environment.

Link here - suggests this. "The 8010 Information System from Xerox (1977-1981) was the first system to use a fully integrated desktop metaphor and application suite. Initially the term "Star" referred to the desktop and application software. However the system as a whole became commonly known as "The Xerox Star." The software was later renamed to "ViewPoint", and later renamed again to "GlobalView."

This wiki about History of the graphical user interface is a very good resource to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_graphical_user_interface

  • Another point for PARC. – plainclothes Dec 2 '15 at 17:18

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