Graphical User Interfaces and Terminal Emulation

These days, we takethe simplicity of working with computers for granted. If you're like most people, you're reading this page from a computer running a Windows operating system, though if you fall outside of the majority, it could be the increasingly popular Mac OS X from Apple, or maybe even a PC running Linux. Whatever the case, your operating system is doing an impeccable job of making using your computer a breeze and this is largely thanks to its graphical user interface or GUI. Once upon a time, there were no GUIs -- there were only text based terminals. In this article, we'll take a look at the evolution of computer access from crude terminals to graphical user interfaces, as well as looking at the role that terminal emulation plays today.

In the beginning...

...personal computers were unheard of. Back in the 1960s and 70s, computers were monolithic pieces of hardware called mainframes which required financial and technical resources well beyond what the average person possessed. As a result, only big organizations could really take advantage of them; home computing was a distant fantasy.

In order to harness the computing power of these mainframes, highly-trained individuals used devices called terminals. These terminals were able to communicate with the mainframe using simple text based commands, but they were far from simple to use; they required a great deal of expertise.

A terminal looked nothing like the modern computers and devices we are all familiar with; it would simply send a text command to the mainframe, and then display the mainframe's return output -- again, just in text. In essence, the mainframe was the brains and the terminal did little more than accept and display user input and the subsequent response of the mainframe.

Enter the graphical user interface

With the evolution of the microchip, eventually computers became smaller -- small enough that the prospect of purchasing and using a computer in the home, instead of only in the world of large corporations, became a reality.

Helping this progression along were the likes of Microsoft and Apple, who introduced graphical elements into their operating systems -- the same graphical elements we take for granted today. Essentially, the GUI offers a attractive and intuitive method of interacting with a computer and eliminates the need to memories takes the complex codes and text based commands used by character based operating systems. When you click on an icon with your mouse or scroll through a series of windows, you're taking advantage of graphical elements that were unheard of in the early days of computing.

The role of terminal emulation

Predictably, the growth of GUI-based operating systems has led to the death of the crude and difficult text based interfaces from general computing. However, the mainframes platforms which those terminals accessed still remain. Large organizations around the world have invested heavily in infrastructure and replacing them would be a massive cost. Furthermore, they retain many advantages that are of great value to big business, such as reliability and security of data.

As a result, terminal emulation software has grown to become critical in the modern business world. Terminal emulation allows the end users to integrate host access into their everyday workflow, whether it's through Windows terminal emulation or via any other modern operating system, terminal emulation software is available for a plethora of systems and devices. Other options, such as Web to host Terminal emulation can directly embedded a terminal into a web page, offering flexibility and transparency to the end user. Alternately for a higher level of customization applications can make use of tools such as TTWin Integrator to capture, manipulate and present host data streams in an entirely new format, integrating host communication seamlessly into modern computing environments.

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