How Xerox Changed Apple Decades Before They Were Successful

appleIn 1979, Apple Computers was working on the next iteration of the Apple II called the Lisa. The computer had not yet implemented a GUI (Graphical User Interface). It was after the company’s co-founder visited Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center, decades before they were successful, that Apple changed their philosophy and practice, which led to their eventual appeal to the public. While visiting Xerox’s Research Center, Steve Jobs and few other employees got to see Xerox’s Alto computer in action. The Alto computer came with windows, folders, icons, pop-up menus, “What You See Is What You Get” text editor, copy and paste capabilities, ethernet-based networking, network printing, games and the Smalltalk programming environment.

Former Xerox PARC and Apple computer scientist Larry Tesler stated that Jobs was very excited upon viewing the computer, citing that he was pacing around the room while occasionally looking at the screen. Jobs stated that Xerox was sitting on a “gold mine” and questioned them as to why they were not doing anything with the technology; he illustrated that the computer they invented could “change the world.” Xerox did not have the intention to market the computer to the public heavily. Tesler was so inspired by Jobs’ confidence that he moved to Apple next year to help manage the creation of the Lisa computer. Jobs would later comment on his experience of the Xerox visit; he said that it was like a “veil being lifted from my eyes,” and he could see the future of computing.

Decades before their successful Macintosh computer, Apple had not yet experimented with GUIs or a mouse, but after their visit to Xerox, the company changed the look and feel of their hardware. The Macintosh is attributed to popularizing the graphical user interface, but Jobs and his company have been accused of stealing from Xerox’s Alto computer. Bill Atkinson, who created the pull-down menu bar, MacPaint, and Quickdraw graphics routines, defended Apple by stating that a lot of people think that Apple went to Xerox PARC and “just stole everything they saw,” but it is not true. Atkinson stated that their visit to Xerox provided them with inspiration and determination and that they were already experimenting with GUI implementation.

Apple’s Lisa computer was not as successful as the products the company would produce decades after. It cost nearly $10,000 and did not sell well when it was first introduced, as opposed to the post Xerox influence Macintosh, which cost $2,495 and sold 70,000 units in its first three months. Bruce Horn, who was responsible for some of the core system software for the Macintosh, worked at Xerox PARC in his college years. He created the Finder, the file locater and manager still present in Apple computers today. Horn stated that drag-and-drop file manipulation came from Apple, along with a bunch of other unique and useful concepts. Xerox later tried to sue Apple for unlawful utilization of its copyrights. They were unsuccessful. Jobs once stated that “good artists copy, great artists steal…we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

By Andres Loubriel

LA Times
The New Yorker

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