Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Steve Jobs and Xerox PARC

Great New Yorker article from Malcolm Gladwell. He dispels some of the myths and long-held beliefs regarding Jobs' visit to Xerox PARC. While Jobs was clearly inspired by what he saw, had he actually copied the work done by the engineers at Xerox PARC, the Macintosh likely would have been a failure.

gladwell dot com - creation myth:
This is the legend of Xerox PARC. Jobs is the Biblical Jacob and Xerox is Esau, squandering his birthright for a pittance. In the past thirty years, the legend has been vindicated by history. Xerox, once the darling of the American high-technology community, slipped from its former dominance. Apple is now ascendant, and the demonstration in that room in Palo Alto has come to symbolize the vision and ruthlessness that separate true innovators from also-rans. As with all legends, however, the truth is a bit more complicated.

The difference between direct and indirect manipulation—between three buttons and one button, three hundred dollars and fifteen dollars, and a roller ball supported by ball bearings and a free-rolling ball—is not trivial. It is the difference between something intended for experts, which is what Xerox PARC had in mind, and something that's appropriate for a mass audience, which is what Apple had in mind. PARC was building a personal computer. Apple wanted to build a popular computer.

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