Tuesday's History lesson

Sit down around the campfire, chillins. I gonna tell ya a story.

Well, story, yes - dialect, no.

As you look at computers and computing devices today, there is one thing that is strikingly common to all computers that humans interact with - it's called the GUI - the Graphical User Interface. The GUI allows the human to deliver information to the computer in a format easy for the human to understand and deal with, and by the same token, the GUI allows the human to easily see and understand the information the computer needs to display.

Now. Those of us who remember mainframes and the 'green screens' know that computer interfaces didn't always look so pretty. Just where did the GUI come from?

Macintosh? Good guess, but no. Macs were the first Personal Computers in the open market to successfully sport a GUI, but that's not where the GUI came from. In fact, if circumstances had been just a bit different, it could well have been said the Apple STOLE every aspect of the GUI from somewhere else.

Microsoft? No. They stole their ideas from Apple. In the early 1980's, Microsoft started down the road which would lead to Windows as we know it today - but all of the elements of their GUI were already more than 10 years old.

No. Once upon a time there was a company - a truly magical company (actually, a division of a much larger company) called PARC. The Palo Alto Research Corporation, started by Xerox with the charter to create the "Office of the Future".

In 1970.

The first thing they did was invent laser printing. And you thought it was Hewlett Packard who did that, right?

By 1973 they had developed the Personal Workstation. It has been argued that PARC actually invented the Personal Computer - though they never laid claim to that. The Personal Workstation had a keyboard, a mouse, and a cursor that could drag things across the screen - the screen, by the way, which used a concept referred to, internally, as windows. And they invented Ethernet in order to make one computer talk to another. Actually, they based Ethernet on a communications system used in Hawaii called Aloha Net - a collision detection, collision avoidance (CDCA) communications system that allowed computers at schools on the islands to talk to one another via radio.

So the next time you use a Xerox machine, treat it gently. Give it a little pat on the back. It's the older cousin to all those PC's ... and cell phones ... and iPods ... and LCD TV's out there in the world that we all use without a second thought.

One way or another, it all goes back to PARC.



Nicole said...

Didn't know that :)

And hey, can you ask your google ads to post pretty men instead of the women for me?

Shadow said...

i'd never have thought... interesting.

Bama Cheryl said...

I worked for Xerox for 12 years, my husband for 30. You'd be completely amazed at all the innovations that have come from PARC. Thanks for noticing! And if we can get one extra person to say "I'm going to copy this" rather than "I'm going to xerox this" it will be a triumph!

Big Mark 243 said...

There once was a huge Xerox office building not far from my home in a suburb of Detroit. We would pass by it when we were crossing in and out of the city. I always wonder what kind of things that the company did besides build copy makers!

This is great stuff.

Grandmother said...

So very interesting. And it changed our world- even of those of us who don't understand the workings of it all. My iMac taught me how to use a computer by being so user friendly to non-geeks.

Holly at Tropic of Mom said...

Cool lesson, Lou. I knew Ethernet and when it was first used in 1969 but didn't know where it came from.

Loraine said...

I wish honesty really was the best policy, but I guess that's just something poor people say.

Neil said...

I did know this bit of trivia. It seems as Xerox will forever be known as the company that dropped the ball with some amazing creations. But to this day -- I still say I am going to Xerox something when I am using a copy machine.

CaraBee said...

Wow! I've heard bits of this, but never the whole story. Filing this away for future trivia exhibitions. :)

Thank you again for your concern this morning. You can be an old woman with me anytime, my dear friend.

Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge said...

I just LOVE history lessons like this one. So cool to know. Also goes to show, to be the star of the show you don't necessarily need to be the best or brightest or even the first, just the LOUDEST! :-)

Nan Sheppard said...

I remember some nerdy friends saying, years ago, that if only it hadn't been called CRAP backwards the company would have taken over the world.

PattiKen said...

Whoa. And now I find out that you are the smart one? I always thought... Well, never mind that.

I've never heard of PARC. I do remember the day before computers got "GUI" and were hard, heartless creatures who wouldn't talk to you in anything but JCL.