VOL 42: The Xerox Thieves: But Did Apple Really Stole from Xerox PARC?-5
True Story Behind the Myth that "Apple stole their Macintosh and GUI ideas from Xerox"
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Trust you all had a great week 🤗?
This is the 5th post in a blog series on Apple Inc. History. Our comprehensive history of Apple will take you from its humble beginnings in the 1970s to Jobs' departure and subsequent return to Apple. Join us in following the Apple story!
Today at a Glance:
Quote of the Week
Xerox PARC and the Lisa
The GUI (Desktop)
Past Greats 👴
Business & Startups
Tweet of the Week
Quote of The Week
“If you look behind people that are good at something, you’ll find hours of consistent practice.”
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Xerox PARC and the Lisa
Apple has never been slow to innovate, and note that we’re approaching the eighties in our trip through the company’s history and we’re at the point where it’s followed up with the company’s staff visit to Xerox PARC, a company established in 1970 to create a spawning ground for digital ideas.
I'm sure most of us have heard of or seen the movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley," which depicts the rivalry between the founders of Apple and Microsoft.
One of my favourite quotes in the movie was said by Anthony Michael who played Bill Gates, in describing Jobs's early success, he said;
“Success is a menace, it fools smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”
While Jobs and Gates were indisputably brilliant men, the movie claimed they did not invent much of the technology that is widely attributed to them.
It has now been widely claimed again and again that in the course of the Macintosh development, Apple just resorted to the ideas the research laboratory Xerox PARC had hatched before. Is this Fact or Fiction? We’ll see.
The myth also says, Apple CEO Steve Jobs saw Xerox PARC products, such as the GUI, either on a tour or at a trade show. He then, without permission, used the PARC GUI implementation to create the Apple Lisa and the original Mac OS / Macintosh GUI.
Please keep in mind that by the late 1970s, Apple was already profitable from successfully building computers. They, too, had begun work on advanced projects aimed at greatly improving computing and making its systems more accessible to a broader, mainstream audience, with graphical screens capable of displaying various font faces.
Alright, back to Apple’s staff visit;
Engineers at Xerox PARC began to create user-friendly graphics to replace all of the command lines and DOS prompts that made computer screens intimidating. They devised the concept of a Desktop, where the screen could display a variety of documents and folders, and you could use a mouse to point and click on the one you wanted to use.
Contrary to popular belief, Apple did not get its Lisa and Macintosh ideas from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center after seeing the group's advanced technology in 1979.
Xerox willingly invited Apple representatives to tour its PARC facility after signing an agreement to buy 100, 000 Apple shares, a total of $1 million, in the hopes that Apple could take PARC's raw technologies and make them commercially successful in the consumer market.
Xerox's $1 million investment was worth $17.6 million when Apple went public a year later. But Apple got a better end of the deal. After Jobs and a few Apple staff visited the PARC, he realized he hadn’t been shown enough. He called Xerox headquarters demanding more.
Jobs returned a few days later, this time with a larger team. Throughout the show, Jobs kept saying he couldn’t believe that Xerox had not commercialized this technology. “You’re sitting on a gold mine,” he shouted.
When he saw the graphical interface, he said and I quote;
“It was like a veil being lifted from my eyes, I could see what the future of computing was destined to be.”
It was the breakthrough Jobs had been looking for to bring computers to the people. Jobs stated that if Xerox had capitalized on this technology, they could have owned the entire computer industry. However, in the annals of innovation, execution is just as important as conception and creation!
Jobs and Apple's engineers went back and significantly improved the graphical interfaces they saw at Xerox PARC and were able to implement them in ways that Xerox could never accomplish.
For example, the "mouse" input device, invented by pioneering computer scientist Douglas Engelbart in the 1960s and refined by Xerox in the 1970s, was central to Xerox's window-based interface. However, it was Apple that produced the first mouse that consumers would recognize.
Apple couldn't simply "steal" Xerox's mouse because to be commercially successful, Apple had to re-develop the technology. This was no easy task; it required an interplay of expertise that no one else had achieved, despite the fact that the concept had been publicly demonstrated since 1968.
Apple's mouse and related innovations would go on to dominate computing for the next two decades. The Xerox mouse had three buttons, was complicated, cost $300 per unit, and didn't roll smoothly, Jobs and his engineers had to redesign it with a simple single-button model that cost only $15.
The GUI (Desktop)
However, Apple required more than just a low-cost, dependable mouse. It needed to create a graphical user environment that could interact with it to perform valuable tasks for users and make computing accessible to people who did not have a special interest in technology.
As part of its vast development work on what would become Lisa and then Macintosh, Apple employed hardware and software engineers (many of whom were recruited from PARC) as well as artists, designers, and marketing experts to develop not only a computer and operating system software, but also an entirely new "desktop" user environment that coined user-friendly new terms for existing, techy computing concepts.
On the Macintosh, executable programs were referred to as "applications," while files were referred to as "documents" and were organized into "folders." Along with developing a functional mouse, Apple also developed terminology for using it, such as "clicking" and "dragging" on icons, which were so novel that they required instructions on how to use these new "techniques".
Apple also developed standards governing every aspect of the user interface, such as new "dialog boxes" used to open, print, and save documents in every application in the same way; new windowing controls; and graphical representations of disks, apps, and documents known as "icons." All of these concepts were codified in Apple's exhaustive Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines library.
Apple also created a standardized set of keyboard shortcuts that were designed to work across all applications, so users didn't have to learn one set of commands for printing or copying and pasting text within WordPerfect word processing, and then switch to an entirely different set for their Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets software, and so on. For example, in every Mac application, Command + P was used to print, + O to open, + Z to undo, and + Q to quit.
Apple also pioneered the concept of system-wide "cut, copy, and paste" for selecting text and graphics in one document and transferring them to another, a concept so novel at the time that Apple had to explain how it worked in its marketing materials.
None of these ideas had come from Xerox. Apple also created the original menu bar and the pulldown menu, as well as detailed guidelines for how each should function. One example of this was the idea of "direct manipulation," in which users clicked to select an icon and then dragged it into a folder to move its location.
Apple reportedly spent $60 million (over $200 million in today's dollars) developing the original Lisa, in addition to the tens of millions in research and development that went into years of additional ongoing work and logistics in building and marketing the Macintosh.
The reason behind this historical perspective is that I want to educate people who have no computer background about the history and development of what has gone before and where we are today.
We’ll continue from here next week.
N.B: Some of these texts and quotes are from Steve Jobs's biography by Walter Isaacson.
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THOMAS BROWNE (1605–1682)
Sir Thomas Browne was a 17th-century English physician, prose writer and polymath, who was influenced by the Baconian method of scientific inquiry and wrote several treaties in diverse fields including science, medicine, and religion.
His writings display a deep curiosity toward the natural world, permeated by references to Classical and Biblical sources
He tried to establish a balance between science (rationalism) and religion (mysticism), through his first literary work “Religio Medici (A Doctor's Religion)” which proved to be his most talked-about work.
Well-travelled and educated, religious and respected. In an age of intolerance, he respected every man's right to decide on his own beliefs: "I could never divide myself from any man upon the difference of an opinion" he said.
His works have been persistently reprinted, and he has won ever-increasing respect as a man of virtuous life dedicated to the progress of medicine and scientific experimentation and appreciation of the mysteries of God, man, and nature. He practised medicine until his death in 1682.
Business & Startups
Reliance Health is a Nigerian health tech startup that uses software, data science and telemedicine to make health insurance delightful, affordable and easier to access.
Reliance Health users have access to an integrated suite of healthcare products via subscriptions. Some of that healthcare is provided by Reliance Health directly through its telemedicine platform, drug delivery system, and two clinics based in Lagos, Nigeria. Others are via third-party provider partners: hospitals, diagnostic centres and pharmaceutical centres.
Motorola is the first company to manufacture a handheld mobile phone and IBM created the first Smartphone.
Tweet of The Week
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