Yes, Xerox, the company that makes copier machines. That is what we think of when we hear their name. What you may not know is that by 1973 Xerox had developed the world’s first personal computer (PC), the Xerox Alto. Xerox introduced the world to the mouse, graphical user interface (GUI), laser printing, ethernet networking, bit mapping, and more. They were years ahead of everyone else and should have been the leaders in internet technology and PCs for the foreseeable future.
So, what happened? Why didn’t Xerox go on to become one of the biggest companies in tech? They had the technology that paved the way for the internet as we now know it, but their management essentially ignored it. Due to the immense success of the Xerox 914 copier, they didn’t see the need to heavily invest in the PC business. They had won the internet lottery and threw away the ticket…
The majority of this great innovation was achieved by the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). This team of genius engineers had been pressing the executives to invest more in this new tech and to commercialize the PC, but management did not take advantage of on the innovative breakthroughs at PARC.
While Xerox was unable to reap the benefits of their innovations; they paved the way for other entrepreneurs change the world forever. In 1979, a young entrepreneur by the name of Steve Jobs decided to visit Xerox PARC and soon discovered the Alto PC. Jobs was in awe of what he saw, especially with the GUI system and mouse. He returned to PARC with his team of programmers for a full technical demo in exchange for Apple shares. His trip to Xerox PARC had a major influence on his breakthrough PC the Macintosh, which had a similar design to the Alto.
Another young entrepreneur you may have heard of named Bill Gates also drew inspiration from Xerox PARC’s early technology. Gates saw the potential of the GUI and launched Windows, his famous graphical extension of the MS-DOS. When Gates faced allegations from Jobs about stealing “his idea” of the GUI for Apple, Gates responded “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.” While neither Gates nor Jobs illegally stole anything or violated any IP rights, this quote shows us how influential Xerox was in the creation of two of the biggest companies in tech.
Xerox could have been the biggest tech company of all time if they had capitalized on their early innovations in PC technology. Instead, they served as inspiration for two companies that went on to change the world, Apple and Microsoft. Unfortunately, Xerox does not get the credit they deserve in the tech world and they remain known as the company that makes copier machines.