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The Xerox Thieves | Steve Jobs & Bill Gates (1979)

While Apple and Microsoft are the GUI kings today, it was the researchers at Xerox that invented the GUI at their Palo Alto Research Center. If only Xerox management had seen the potential of these inventions, perhaps today they would've been the first tr

It is claimed again and again that in the course of the Macintosh’s development, Apple just resorted to the ideas the research laboratory Xerox PARC had hatched before. Fact or Fiction?


The myth says, Apple CEO Steve Jobs saw Xerox PARC product, such as the GUI, either on a tour or at a trade show. He then used the PARC GUI implementation without permission, to create the Apple Lisa and the original Mac OS / Macintosh GUI.


The myth entwines about a late 1979 visit to Xerox PARC by a group of Apple engineers and executives led by Steve Jobs. Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of “Making the Macintosh”, writes:


"According to early reports, it was on this visit that Jobs discovered the mouse, windows, icons, and other technologies that had been developed at PARC. These wonders had been locked away at PARC by a staff that didn’t understand the revolutionary potential of what they had created. Jobs, in contrast, was immediately converted to the religion of the graphical user interface, and ordered them copied by Apple, starting down the track that would eventually yield the Lisa and “insanely great” Macintosh. The Apple engineers - that band of brothers, that bunch of pirates - stole the fire of the gods, and gave it to the people."


It’s a good story. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong in almost every way a story can be wrong. There are problems with chronology and timing. The testimony of a number of key figures at Apple suggests that the visit was not the revelation early accounts made it out to be. But the story also carries deeper assumptions about Apple, Xerox PARC, computer science in the late 1970s, and even the nature of invention and innovation that deserve to be examined and challenged.



The PARC Computer Science Laboratory (CSL) - 1970 ca. - © PARC (Palo Alto Research Center, Incorporated)

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