Technology

How Xerox PARC is the organization that shaped the modern world

There are ideas sprung from the deep-rooted soil that shape the modern world, but the ideas are generally credited to a group of entities which copy from the source.

This has been the case with Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) which has been inventing breakthrough technologies in the past forty years.

Xerox Corporation was the leading copier and printer technology in the 70s, as the patents expired for the printing technology, Asian companies like Canon started copying the technology that Xerox used in their printers. Therefore, to stay ahead of the competition Xerox opened a research centre in Palo Alto where the greatest minds were hired to invent.

PARC has been instrumental in the advances of laser printing and the technology that shaped the modern-day computer.
Xerox made the first ever PC – Xerox 8010 Star Information system– with a graphical user interface (GUI), Steve Jobs paid in Apple stocks to see the demo of the system, and later copied it. The same copied model was later analysed by Bill Gates and he made Windows out of it, still the most popular UI on earth.

Xerox PARC didn’t get the popularity it deserved but it’s time the youth is made aware of Xerox.

Below are the best inventions that made a huge impact: 

1. Graphical User Interface
2. Optical Mouse and Ball
3. Networking among computers and Ethernet
4. Laser printer
5. PC
6. Magneto-optical storage
7. The computer worm
8. Amorphous silicon
9. High power laser tech
10. The IPv6 and HTTP-NG protocols

WYSIWYG and GUI

You can’t point and click without configuring point and click. PARC made much of the User Interface we have today. The early GUI featured icons, pop-up menus, check boxes, overlapping windows—everything connected with a mouse.

This made way for much more amazing and innovation in the industry. This also inspired the first WYSIWYG applications—a great revelation in those days.

The first word processor was also from here called Bravo from which MS Word was extracted—still the most popular word processor in 2018. Graphics editor, integrated circuit editor, the SIL vector graphics editor, and even the programming languages like Interslip, InterPress and Smalltalk. Now, these inspired C++. Objective C, CLOS, Java etc. Multiplayer games, spell checkers… the list is long.

Optical Mouse and Ball

Well PARC didn’t develop the first mouse. Mouse was made as a bowling bowl for a military project in 1952, Stanford’s Douglas Engelbart developed a wheel mouse in the 60s. Engelbart demonstrated his device in 1968, with the advent of that, the German company Telefunken presented ball mouse—far from the modern design.

Bill English, Engelbart’s partner while developing the first mouse; later built a mouse with PARC, the modern mouse fairly resembles the mouse we use today. The PARC’s mouse never hit the retail market though.

Networking among computers and Ethernet

The Ethernet is deployed in every computer in today’s world. It was invented by Robert Metcalfe and his three colleagues. In an paper published by Metcalfe in 1976, the early version of Ethernet ran at 2.94 Mb/s. Metcalfe pitched Xerox, Intel, Digital Equipment Corporation to promote 10 Mb/s Ethernet with “DIX” standard, later it was turned into a reality.

Nowadays optical fibres have taken over the coaxial cables. Many other advances took place with Ethernet, like PARC Universal Packet(PUP), an internetworking protocol influencing TCP/IP and XNS protocols.

Laser Printer

Gary Starkweather invented the laser printer in 1969 at Xerox’s Webster research center. It was made by modifying a xerographic copier. The first laser printer didn’t get popular at first but it gained traction again at PARC. Gary collaborated with PARC to modify his original design. It was commercialized in 1975 with the IBM 3800, but it started circulating in the market in 1981 as thr $17,000 Xerox Star 8010.

The printing market boomed in 1984 with successive competitors like Brother, Apple, IBM etc. Laser printing grew into a multibillion-dollar business with Xerox which helped funding all the other projects.

The PC- Alto

Xerox incorporated everything it did in its PC but the machine never gained traction for the user and was used mainly in the PARC centers. The Alto was reworked and sold in 1981, the first shipment occurred in 1981, known as the Xerox star. It was marketed as the office of the future.

The Star costed $16,000 but the full office setup costed $50,000 dollar. It was a closed system, hardware and software was integrated and made from scratch by Xerox. Later Apple launched Macintosh which was a commercial success.

PARC continues to excel with breakthrough technology with artificial intelligence, internet of things, digital manufacturing and workplace.  

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