Key Moment in Tech History #1: The Moment Steve Jobs Walked Into Xerox PARC

Published on November 5, 2020
Xerox PARC
Image Credit: [Xerox PARC]

Xerox PARC indirectly changed the world. It was 1971 in Palo Alto, California. Xerox was worried about the coming computer revolution replacing them. So, they set out to create the future. You see, Xerox was a printer company and they saw the coming revolution that would leave more eyes on screens than on papers.

A Few People at Xerox Had Vision

Some Xerox employees saw that computer technology was going to reach mainstream popularity. And to these few people, it was clear that computers were going to make offices a better place to work. So, PARC was created as a place where developers would have free-reign to innovate.

Working at Xerox PARC Was a Developers Dream

At the time, Bob Taylor ran Xerox PARC. The first thing he did for his people was buy beanbags chairs for them to sit in. Bob made sure that the engineers at Xerox PARC had all the comfort and freedom they needed to innovate. The management basically said, ‘Go create the new world, we don’t understanding it, just do it.’

Engineers were told to work on ‘5-year programs’ that were their ‘dreams.’ Stop and think about that for a second. This team of developers was literally paid to create their own personal dreams. All while their manager played interference between them and corporate.

At Xerox PARC, they worked on a sort-of ‘proto-PC’. It was called a ‘Xerox Alto.’ This was 1973, far before the personal computer, but it had all the elements of a personal computer. The thing is, it never went on sale and the parts to make it cost $10,000 (almost $60,000 in today’s money).

Xerox PARC

Sometimes People Just Don’t Get It

The researchers at Xerox PARC, however, just could not get Xerox upper management to understand how important their inventions were. The head office in New York didn’t get it. This, of course, was very frustrating to the researchers. There was simply no one within Xerox that could understand their vision.

There was, however, a man that would have no problem receiving and applying Xerox PARC’s vision.

He wanted you to be great. And he wanted you to create something that was great, and he was going to make you do that.

Larry Tesler – Former Chief Scientist at Apple Computer

That man, of course, was Steve Jobs.

They showed me, really, three things. But I was so blinded by the first one that I didn’t even really see the other two. One of the things they showed me was object-oriented programming, they showed me that, but I didn’t even see that.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs really could see what was happening out at Xerox PARC. Also, he knew how important it was. Steve Jobs had vision.

The other one they showed me was a networked computer system. they had over 100 Alto computers all networked and using email, I didn’t even see that. I was so blinded by the first things that they showed me. The graphical user interface. I thought that was the best thing I had ever seen… within 10 minutes, it was obvious to me that all computers should work like this.

Steve Jobs

Adele Goldberg, the Founder of PARC Place Systems, was the one who showed jobs the Alto computer running PARCs new software. They used an interesting little device called a ‘mouse’ to move a cursor on the screen.

Xerox PARC Was Reluctant to Give The Demo

Goldberg did NOT want to show Jobs the system. They had all worked hard on it. The people at Xerox PARC were very frustrated with upper management. Their bosses simply did not understand the inventions that the engineers made. Now, these inventors were forced to let Steve Jobs walk right in and take it.

Yet in late 1979, that exactly happened. For an hour and a half. Steve Jobs and his best engineers were given a demonstration. They were showed everything. Steve and his team got to see how everything worked under the hood. They were blown away, and the rest is history.

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