Back in 1979, a twenty-four-year-old Steve Jobs paid a visit to a research facility in Silicon Valley known as Xerox parc. He was the co-founder of a small computer start up down the road in Cupertino named Apple Computers.
Xerox Parc was the research and development arm of the Xerox Corporation. It was, and still is situated on Coyote Hill Road in Palo Alto to the South East of Stanford University’s Hoover Tower. Hewlett-Packard had their campus in the north and in the vicinity were scores of other chip designers, software firms, venture capitalists, and hardware-makers.
In 1970, Xerox had assembled the world’s greatest collection of computer engineers and programmers, and for the next decade they enjoyed an unparalleled period of innovation and invention. Anybody with an eye on the future in the 1970s was obsessed with Xerox parc—hence the reason why a young Steve Jobs had driven to the Coyote Hill Road facility.
Apple was already one of the hottest tech firms around. Everyone in town wanted a piece of its fledgling action so Jobs proposed a deal to the suits at Xerox: he would allow them to purchase shares in his company for a million dollars if Xerox would open up their Willy Wonka-esque parc facility and bare all. Whilst some at parc understandably thought the whole idea was lunacy, Xerox ultimately went ahead with the plan.
Jobs was given a couple of tours and ended up standing in front of the legendary Xerox Alto, the company’s prized personal computer.
Larry Tesler, an engineer at the facility conducted the initial demonstration. He moved the cursor across the screen with the aid of a “mouse.” In those days, controlling a computer meant typing in a command on the keyboard and the strange new mouse device enabled Tesler to simply click icons on the screen. He opened and closed “windows,” and deftly moved between tasks. He wrote text on an elegant word-processing program and exchanged e-mails with other individuals at parc on the world’s first Ethernet network. “Jobs was pacing around the room, acting up the whole time,” Tesler recalled. “He was very excited. Then, when he began seeing the things I could do onscreen, he watched for about a minute and started jumping around the room, shouting, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything with this? This is the greatest thing. This is revolutionary!’“
Xerox ultimately withdrew from the personal computer industry altogether after the failure of their successor to the alto which was released in 1981. Jobs meanwhile demanded that his team that were working on the company’s next generation of PCs do a complete about-turn. Jobs wanted menus on the screen and windows. He wanted a mouse.
The result was Apple’s legendary Macintosh, arguably the most famous product in the history of Silicon Valley.
Jobs said many years later, “If Xerox had known what it had and had taken advantage of its real opportunities, it could have been as big as I.B.M. plus Microsoft plus Xerox combined—and the largest high-technology company in the world.”
So why does Xerox not own the entire planet? Why is the company not sitting on a fortune the size of Microsoft, Apple, IBM and god knows how many other companies’ combined wealth in a world where everyone owns a Xerox desktop, laptop or xpad?
The answer is that basically, the corporate heads at Xerox didn’t really care about computers. According to Tessler, “the company management did not care for the PARC’s research results unless they were directly involved with photocopiers.” The potential to effortlessly create new programs and share data with others around the office were simply unimportant next to the ability to easily replicate pieces of paper.
Instead of making use of their brilliant technology and manufacturing computer-related products, Xerox simply opened up their doors to anyone that wanted to see what they were up to.
It’s an ongoing debate as to why Xerox so willingly gave away technology that has since revolutionized the entire planet. Had the company taken the time to properly develop their technologies into successful products, they could possibly have been the biggest company on the face of the earth.
Here at The W1nners’ Club we have a guy that has to come in pretty much every other day to fix our photocopier because it keeps on breaking down and we can’t help but wonder if there is another version of him in another dimension that spends his time opening up Xerox personal computers to see why the mouse keeps jamming….