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Technology Science

Xerox PARC Celebrates 40th Anniversary 57

Posted by Soulskill
from the success-that's-hard-to-copy dept.
CWmike writes "For 40 years, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center has been a place of technological creativity and bold ideas, writes Todd Weiss. The inventions it has spawned, from Ethernet networking to laser printing and the graphical user interface, have led to myriad technologies that allow us to use computers in ways that we take for granted today. When it opened on July 1, 1970, PARC was set up as a division of Xerox Corp. The idea was to invest in PARC as a springboard for developing new technologies and fresh concepts that would lead to future products. 'Conducting research at PARC four decades ago was like magic,' says Dr. Robert S. Bauer, who worked at PARC from 1970 to 2001. 'In an era of political and social upheaval, we came to work every day with a passion to free technology from the grip of the military-industrial complex and bring computation to the people.' Indeed, the company's 'technology first' culture has sometimes brought it under fire. PARC has often been criticized for its past failures to capitalize on some of its greatest inventions, allowing other companies to cash in on its ideas. (Today, PARC has a team working to protect its intellectual property.) Nevertheless, its reputation as a technology innovator is impeccable."
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Xerox PARC Celebrates 40th Anniversary

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:24PM (#33641302)

    ...a company made successful by copying, created so much original technology.

    • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:27PM (#33641336)
      Not as funny as the things they created are only relevant because someone else copied it.
      • by oracleguy01 (1381327) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:42PM (#33641496)
        Well that isn't technically true, at least some of the people left PARC to found companies to make products based on their ideas because XEROX management failed to see the value in the technology they owned. Adobe and 3Com are two such examples.
      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday September 20, 2010 @05:09PM (#33642444) Journal

        PARC invented the laser printer, and Xerox made enough money from that to cover the entire cost of operating it for as long as it ran. They got Apple shares from showing Steve Jobs around which, by the time they sold them, were worth more than the total cost of operating PARC. They got a bit of money from spin-out companies to commercialise Ethernet and Smalltalk. I'm not sure who thinks that they didn't make money - they were the absolute poster child for R&D return on investment. They might have been able to make more, but it would probably have killed the atmosphere that made PARC so productive.

        PARC now is a pale shadow of Xerox PARC in the '70s. The most interesting thing I've seen from it recently was Aspect Oriented Programming, which was proof that you can make people use something as insane as a computed COME FROM statement if you wrap it in enough buzzwords.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by RocketRabbit (830691)

        If Xerox had been led by somebody with brains, they'd own the personal and business computing markets now.

        Instead they gave it all away for some beads and rum.

        • by tehcyder (746570)
          What they needed was a shit-hot team of Intellectual Property lawyers. I know I'm not supposed to say those words here, but it's true.
    • by thermopile (571680) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:52PM (#33641618) Homepage
      For a truly *great* read about what PARC was like, I would highly recommend "Dealers of Lightning" by Michael Hiltzik.

      The book goes into some detail about the environment, the management style (both local and at "HQ" back in NY state), and all the great inventions that came out of there. And also of PARC's decline in the mid-to-late 1980's. I really wish I could have been a fly on the wall back in those days, and this book gets pretty close.

      Less than twelve bucks from Amazon [amazon.com] and well worth it.

      • For a great technical history read "Copies in Seconds", amazing story about the inventor and great information of the complex physics of what is so taken for granted now.

      • by adam872 (652411)
        Totally agree with this recommendation. I have the book and love it.
    • Yup. One of the things they invented was the Dynabook, circa 1970... basically what you now get in an iPad, now that the hardware has caught up to the vision, 40 years later. And of course the mouse, the gui, OO programming with the introduction of Smalltalk etc. etc. etc. etc.
      • The Dynabook concept was developed by Alan Kay before he joined PARC, but of course the actual product was never developed. The mouse was invented by Douglas Engelbart at SRI. He also developed some early GUI concepts.

        PARC did invent OO programming.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_graphical_user_interface [wikipedia.org]

        • I think I was fairly clear that the Dynabook was never realized in hardware. Kay worked on the Dynabook at PARC. PARC developed what most would consider the first modern GUI... Apple certainly seemed to like it and your own reference essentially says the same thing. Engelbart developed a very specific system at SRI, then SRI people went to PARC and the Alto was developed, being [according to your reference] "the first computer to demonstrate the desktop metaphor and graphical user interface(GUI)". That's no
    • ...a company made successful by copying, created so much original technology.

      That's right, their GUI also had pasting!

  • Why PARC's Fault? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by captbob2002 (411323) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:33PM (#33641390)

    "PARC has often been criticized for its past failures to capitalize on some of its greatest inventions" How is that PARC's fault? More likely the short-sighted Xerox management that failed to see what they had?

    • by Lennie (16154) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:43PM (#33641522) Homepage

      I think it is a great example of what would happen if nothing was patented.

      The mouse/wimp and ethernet and so on all came from there, had they patented it like crazy, they would probably never had much succes.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        But would still have made them a pretty penny if they made use of the first mover advantage and ran with it.

      • That was by Douglas Englebart about four miles away and 8 years before Xerox PARC, but in a similar liberated research department. He also invented the concept of virtual screens (windows) and icons. This was in the era of when computer graphics devices were just souped-up oscilloscopes: vector-drawing only. The software research groups shared ideas more openly then, probably no one imagined you could make money off these expensive toys then. The SRI was established to sequester military R&D funds from
    • Re:Why PARC's Fault? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Meshach (578918) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:52PM (#33641632)
      I do not think anyone 40 years ago dreamed that computers would ever be a prevalent in society as they are in the present. Most early computer scientists saw themselves as playing a game not developing the infrastructure that exists now.
      • by Mikkeles (698461)

        Actually, many of us did. Many also did not and many did not consider the question.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        dunno, the impression i get was that much of SPARC came out of scratching a local itch more then some bold plan to plant computers everywhere. Networking seemed to have come from "would it not be easier if we had a cable that we cold use to transfer data between computers?".

      • Meshach wrote:

        I do not think anyone 40 years ago dreamed that computers would ever be a prevalent in society as they are in the present. Most early computer scientists saw themselves as playing a game not developing the infrastructure that exists now.

        Prevalent? The visionaries saw where it could go.
        42 years ago, people were thinking about prevalent personal computing like laptops & tablets:

        Excerpt from wikipedia about Alan Key's "Dynabook" concept: [wikipedia.org]

        This concept was created two years before the founding of Xerox PARC. Kay wanted to make "A Personal Computer For Children Of All Ages." The ideas led to the development of the Xerox Alto prototype, which was originally called "the interim Dynabook". It embodied all the elements of a graph

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      "PARC has often been criticized for its past failures to capitalize on some of its greatest inventions"

      As opposed to SCO, who tried to capitalize on the greatest inventions of others.

    • by dtmos (447842) *

      "PARC has often been criticized for its past failures to capitalize on some of its greatest inventions" How is that PARC's fault? More likely the short-sighted Xerox management that failed to see what they had?

      My thought exactly. Blaming PARC for Xerox's inability to capitalize on its inventions is like blaming the cows when a milk truck is stolen. With the motor running and the door open.

      • by hitmark (640295)

        That's management for you. Pass the blame, keep the fame. Then downsize and collect the bonus.

    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      "PARC has often been criticized for its past failures to capitalize on some of its greatest inventions" How is that PARC's fault? More likely the short-sighted Xerox management that failed to see what they had?

      ..and fumbled the future [douglasksmith.com]?

  • LambdaMOO (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrEricSir (398214) on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:40PM (#33641482) Homepage

    The mouse, ethernet, OOP... who cares? Isn't LambdaMOO enough of a reason to celebrate PARC?

    • by syousef (465911)

      The mouse, ethernet, OOP... who cares? Isn't LambdaMOO enough of a reason to celebrate PARC?

      I'm lactose intolerant you insensitive clod!

  • Big Deal (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 20, 2010 @03:45PM (#33641540)

    They ripped off Apple, anyway.

  • by multipartmixed (163409) on Monday September 20, 2010 @04:05PM (#33641758) Homepage

    I guess PARC's research into Hypertext wasn't worth mentioning?

  • by tomhath (637240) on Monday September 20, 2010 @04:12PM (#33641838)

    'In an era of political and social upheaval, we came to work every day with a passion to free technology from the grip of the military-industrial complex and bring computation to the people.'

    Much of PARC's success was because the country was in a deep recession in the late 70's and early 80's. All those guys with PhD's who wanted to live quiet lives as university professors were forced to get jobs instead, it allowed PARC to put together quite a brain trust.. But they probably would've done even better if they had stuck to technology instead of trying to solve the world's political and social issues. PARC employees heavily influenced the decline of the Association for Computing Machinery by taking over many of the leadership spots and pushing their social activist agenda.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by timeOday (582209)

      But they probably would've done even better if they had stuck to technology instead of trying to solve the world's political and social issues.

      To say that somebody would have been more effective without the very thing that motivated them - after they were in fact highly successful - just strikes me as nonsensical.

      If their goal was to 'free technology from the grip of the military-industrial complex and bring computation to the people,' how could it have been any more successful?

      You can always say, "w

    • ..and that they hired some of the people from the SRI Augmentation Research Center, who invented the mouse, GUI etc... that PARC are often credited with ....

    • by MoriT (1747802)
      And women with PhDs: Dr. Goldberg was one of the founders.
  • by peter303 (12292) on Monday September 20, 2010 @04:41PM (#33642156)
    They both have large armadas of computer science projects that are not being successfully commercialized. I suspect these are not as profound developments as Xerox's was. But only time can tell.
    • by hitmark (640295)

      Especially now that there are rumors that microsoft is working on a more compact version of their surface system. It will still be table sized, but more of the system will be built into the actual table surface rather then needing to be half a meter away.

  • The screenshot of the Alto shows smiling piggies, flowers, and a rainbow. Perhaps they should add "excessively-cute web-pages" to their list of firsts.
       

  • This is a fit occasion to call attention to the late Mark Weiser (1952-1999), the great popularizer of "ubiquitous computing," who was a key figure at PARC. I think he was also a visionary in the field of e-paper, which continues to slowly evolve but still isn't there yet.
  • What's fun is, I got to celebrate their birthday by using my mouse to click on this announcement of their birthday.

  • "a passion to free technology from the grip of the military-industrial complex and bring computation to the people"
    And now we have to free technology from the grip of the large corporate-industrial complex and bring computation to the people.
    Not much has changed.

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