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William Newman (computer scientist)

William Maxwell Newman (born 21 May 1939) is a British computer scientist. With others at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s Newman demonstrated the advantages of the raster (bitmap graphics) display technology first deployed in the Xerox Alto personal workstation, developing interactive programs for producing illustrations and drawings. With Bob Sproull he co-authored the first major textbook on interactive computer graphics.[1] Newman later contributed to the field of human–computer interaction, publishing several papers and a book taking an engineering approach to the design of interactive systems. He is an honorary professor at University College London and became an ACM SIGCHI Academy member in 2004.

William Newman
Born (1939-05-21) 21 May 1939 (age 78)
Comberton, near Cambridge, England
Residence Cambridge, England
Nationality United Kingdom
Occupation Computer scientist
Known for Contributions to computer graphics. Participation in work at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s that led to the emergence of the personal computer.


Early lifeEdit

Newman was born 21 May 1939 at Comberton, near Cambridge, England. He is the second son of Max Newman, the distinguished mathematician and World War II codebreaker who worked at Bletchley Park, Manchester University and Cambridge University. William's mother was Lyn Irvine, a writer linked with the Bloomsbury Group. For many years William was unaware of his father's important work at the Bletchley Park WWII codebreaking centre because it was protected under the Official Secrets Act until at least in the mid-1970s. However, in later life he took a keen interest in his father's role there, contributing items to the Bletchley Park Museum and elsewhere.[2]


He attended Manchester Grammar School before studying Engineering at St. John's College, Cambridge, obtaining a BA with first-class honours in 1961. His first contact with computers came in the mid-1960s when he joined others developing early CAD applications on the PDP-7 computer installed at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory. This PDP-7 was one of the first computers in the United Kingdom equipped with a vector-graphics display.

Research and careerEdit

Newman completed a PhD in Computer Graphics at Imperial College London in 1968 under the supervision of Professor Bill Elliott. For his PhD project he produced the Reaction Handler,[3] a system for organising the elements of a graphical user interface that is often referred to as the first user interface management system (UIMS).[4] He then joined Ivan Sutherland's research team developing software for interactive computer graphics systems, first at Harvard and then the University of Utah. He then held teaching and research positions at Queen Mary College London, University of California at Irvine and the University of Utah.

Between 1973 and 1979, Newman worked at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC) where he was involved in the development of several of the software components for the Alto, Xerox's pioneering personal computer. He independently developed Markup (1975), an early interactive drawing (paint) program. With Bob Sproull he developed Press, a page description language for printers that was a precursor to PostScript; and with Timothy Mott he developed Officetalk Zero, a prototype office system. All of them saw use in early versions of the Alto system. Markup included what was almost certainly the first instance of the use of pop-up menus.[5] (Further details on Markup and Press can be found in the Alto User's Handbook[6]).

In 1973, Newman and Bob Sproull published Principles of Interactive Computer Graphics;[1] a second edition was published in 1979. This was the first comprehensive textbook on computer graphics and was regarded as the graphics "bible" until it was succeeded by Foley and van Dam's Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice.

Newman went on to manage a research team at the Xerox Research Centre Europe, Cambridge, UK. With Margery Eldridge and Mik Lamming he pursued a research project in Activity-Based Information Retrieval’ (AIR). The basic hypothesis of the project was that if contextual data about human activities can be automatically captured and later presented as recognisable descriptions of past episodes, then human memory of those past episodes can be improved.

Newman subsequently undertook research in human–computer interaction with the aim of identifying measurable parameters that characterise the quality of interaction. He developed an approach based on Critical Parameters[7] for designing interactive systems that deliver tangible performance improvements to the user. In 1995 he published the textbook Interactive System Design with Mik Lamming incorporating those ideas.[8]

Newman has since worked as a consultant, advising a number of organisations on interactive systems design.[9] He has also been an honorary professor at University College London, lecturing at its Interaction Centre (UCLIC).


  1. ^ a b Newman, William; Sproull, Robert (1979). Principles of Interactive Computer Graphics (2 ed.). New York, NY, USA: McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-046338-7. 
  2. ^ Owen, Chris (21 June 2012). "The son of Turing's mentor on beating the codebreaker at Monopoly". Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Newman, W.M. (1968). "A System for Interactive Graphical Programming". AFIPS Spring Joint Computer Conference. 28: 47–54. 
  4. ^ Myers, Brad A. (March 1998). "A Brief History of Human Computer Interaction Technology 44-54". ACM interactions. 5 (2): 44–54. Retrieved 7 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Perry, T. S.; Voelcker, J. (September 1989). "Of mice and menus: designing the user-friendly interface". IEEE Spectrum. 26 (9): 46–51. doi:10.1109/6.90184. 
  6. ^ Alto User's Handbook (PDF). Palo Alto CA 94303 US: Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. 1979. 
  7. ^ Newman, William M. (1997-01-01). "Better or Just Different? On the Benefits of Designing Interactive Systems in Terms of Critical Parameters". Proceedings of the 2Nd Conference on Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods, and Techniques. DIS '97. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 239–245. doi:10.1145/263552.263615. ISBN 0897918630. 
  8. ^ Newman, William M.; Lamming, Michael G. (1995-01-01). Interactive System Design. Boston, MA, USA: Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc. ISBN 0201631628. 
  9. ^ "About William Newman". William Newman's personal website. 19 November 2005. Retrieved 14 August 2016. 

External linksEdit