Digital Reasearch's GEM
In 1985, Digital Research Incorporated (DRI) launched the Graphics Environment Manager (GEM) which was hailed as a "Mac Killer" bringing a graphical user interface environment supporting an overlapping window/pulldown menu paradigm running on standard IBM PC XTs and ATs and compatibles. GEM supported an impressive range of graphics drivers (from low resolution EGA and Hercules on up to the highest end publishing monitors, the 19 inch Sigma Designs LaserView at 1600 by 1200). For the first time developers had a robust and extensive Graphical User Interface (GUI) that could be driven by common programming languages such as Borland's Turbo Pascal, C and others.
Some history of DRI
In 1980 DRI had lost the opportunity to have their industry leading operating system CP/M become the standard on the IBM PC. By 1983, their archrival, Microsoft, was now starting to grow from revenues from selling DOS to clonemakers and had announced "Windows" in partial response to the launch of the Lisa and the upcoming Macintosh by then industry giant Apple. VisiCorp had also launched VisiOn in 1983 and started the trend to bring the GUI to the IBM platform. In 1985 Microsoft launched Windows 1.0, which was far more limited than GEM and really was not ready for developers. Over the next few years GEM was the basis for several successful products, notably Ventura Publisher, the first serious WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) document compositon system on the IBM platform. Unfortunately, the market power of Microsoft was such that developers were content to wait through Windows/286, Windows/386 and arrive at Windows 3.0 in 1990 before entering the GUI universe. Like CP/M before it, GEM died a gradual death.
GEM on Atari
Also in 1985 GEM was announced for the upcoming 16 bit Atari ST computers. Thus GEM had a life as a truly cross-platform graphical operating environment. Only GEOS achieved a greater cross platform capability as a GUI environment. For die-hard Atari fans, GEM is still very much a living thing.
The Elixir Desktop, perhaps the most advanced GEM application
Another product that took GEM to new heights was the Elixir Desktop and applications developed in mid to late 80s and marketed worldwide by Xerox, IBM and others. This product suite was developed by Elixir Technologies Corp and Bruce Damer, DigiBarn Curator, played a central role, writing several of the products including the desktop environment. The Elixir products merged the design principles and look and feel of the Xerox workstations (pioneered by the Xerox Star 8010) onto the DOS platform driving very high resolution monitors. Together, Elixir and GEM transformed a lowly IBM DOS machine into a document composition workstation.
GEM has been released to the open source commons and its source and binaries are available here.
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