How did people here learn GUIs

Sam Hartman hartmans at
Sun Jul 17 10:38:24 UTC 2016

John's comment about learning GUIs and not initially being good with
them was interesting to me.  I thought back to my initial  experience
with GUI environments, and realized that if it weren't for some really
great work, I would have found GUIs really hard to approach.

I'm curious, especially among those who do find GUIs easy to use, how
you learned to use them?

What resources did you use?  Are there any that are still available?

For me, I think the following factors contributed:

* Reading the Turbo Pascal 5.5 and 6.0 documentation on their text-based
  GUI environment.

* Reading the Desqview developer documentation on Window layout.

* Reading the discussion of GUI design in the Borland C++ support for
  Windows 3.1.

Some of the above dealt with text-mode GUIs, but all provided good
fundamentals in dialogue boxes, how to do layout, and that sort of
The documentation was in text for the most part rather than being filled
with too many pictures.  The documentation was focused for people
writing GUIs so it had a lot of explanation.
That kind of gave me a good grounding in what to expect.

But the real breakthrough happened when I had to use a Mac in the early
1990's--probably around System 7.
There was a screen reader made by the same folks who made After Dark
(the screen saver)--Berkeley Systems?  Anyway, it came with a tape and a
few braille sample screen layouts.  It went through Mac UI
design--talking about what Apple recommended, what it looked like to a
sighted person, and then walked you through all the elements of the
braille layouts they included.

There product was both great and horrible.  It was great in that it gave
you access to the GUI at a level very similar to a sighted person.  You
really did have to drag things around with the (virutal--keyboard
controlled) mouse for most operations.  It was slow, but you really got
a feel for what was going on.  Also, because it was so close to the
actual GUI, asking for help was easy.

Then around 1995, I ended up having to use JAWS for Windows.  Its
documentation and explanation of Windows UI was sufficient already being
familiar with the Mac to be able to follow what  was going on.  However,
without that earlier work I doubt I would have been able to follow a

Modern screen readers are both easier and more frustrating.  In
particular, web browsers and office programs hide a lot of the GUI from
the blind user.  (This is more true on Linux and Mac  that Windows)
In particular, I can't really tell in a web browser whether some element
is to the left or right of another element or above or below.  I can
tell whether one element is logically before or after another.  In an
office program, I lost access to the ruler sometime in the 1990's, and
haven't regained all the things I could do with that since.

I used to be able to do relatively competent layout of
documents--tables, figures, graphs, the like.  I'd need my work checked,
but I understood what was going on and was better at layout that some of
my sighted peers.
Sadly, as the screen readers have been getting better at presenting
logical information, it's harder to do that.  I don't think I could
produce great work in Libreoffice.

That said, I rarely need to worry about scroll bars, what's visible on
the screen or the like.  I don't need to worry much about how wide my
windows are, or where they are positioned.

I have no idea how I'd teach a blind users about GUIs today; I don't
know where the modern versions of those braille layouts and the great
explanatory tape are.

I'd love to hear others' stories.

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