[SIGCIS-Members] Resources re: history of menus in computing?

Thomas Haigh thaigh at computer.org
Sun Mar 16 14:11:18 PDT 2014

Hello everyone,

Pop up and pull down menus had a specific genesis in the PARC/Xerox/Apple
trajectory of GUI work and have been an object of historical curiosity. IIRC
PARC had popup menus and Apple added pull down menus.

In contrast, menus in general are a fairly fundamental concept in
interactive computing and I suspect would have appeared very early in the
development of commands and applications for timesharing systems. The
alternative to a menu was a command line system, but these required commands
to be typed with no mistakes in exactly the right syntax. A menu guided
users through valid options, which reduced the error rate and effectively
let "help" information be integrated with the entry of commands. Menus could
be used with teletypes as well as VDUs.

So my personal guess on the origin of menus would be in a very early
interactive system such as MIT's CTSS, RAND's JOSS, or something from SDC.
If you are interested in a specific "first" you would also need to develop a
clear definition of "menu" to distinguish it from a command prompt.

Best wishes,


-----Original Message-----
From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [mailto:members-bounces at sigcis.org] On
Behalf Of William McMillan
Sent: Sunday, March 16, 2014 3:42 PM
To: Laine Nooney; sigcis
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Resources re: history of menus in computing?

Hello, Laine.

Menus were central to the UI of UCSD Pascal, Ken Bowles's project in the
1970s.  Bowles talked with Steve Jobs int he early days (and later, Gates)
and some of the students who worked on UCSD Pascal went to Apple and
influenced the development of the Lisa etc.  Apple Pascal (an OS as well as
a programming environment) for the Apple II was UCSD Pascal.

There are a lot of good web resources on UCSD Pascal, and I had a magazine
article on its history in IEEE Spectrum.

This was certainly an early and influential deployment of a menu-driven UI.
Games were developed in UCSD Pascal, but I don't know if they were notable
at all.

- Bill
- Hide quoted text -

On 3/15/14, Laine Nooney <laine.nooney at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hi all,
> I'm currently pulling together a short essay for a game history 
> lexicon on the emergence of the menu in games. This topic is running 
> me a bit in circles--menus seem to be one of those components that are 
> so "obvious," or taken for granted in the game dev realm, that they 
> aren't deeply, explicitly talked about.
> I'm wondering what the respective literature around "menus" might be 
> in the history of computing. Are there obvious touchstones or 
> definitive transitions to be aware of (especially beyond the visible 
> PARC/Apple/Windows GUI histories)?
> And to be clear, I'm trying to keep this distinct from UI issues 
> (insofar as that's possible!)
> Any leads, food for thought, or general chatter would be much appreciated!
> Best,
> Laine Nooney
> Department of Cultural Analysis and Theory Stony Brook University
> Editorial Assistant to the Journal of Visual Culture vcu.sagepub.com
> www.lainenooney.com
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