10 September 2012

Apple paid Xerox PARC for the GUI

I sort of grew up on the legend of Steve Jobs “stealing” the basics of the Mac interface from Xerox PARC. A while back I learned that the truth is more complicated.

In 1979, Jobs and a group of Apple engineers visited Xerox PARC, a famous Silicon Valley research group, for three days. During those visits, the Apple team saw what was then the future of personal computing: Bitmapped screens, graphical interfaces, desktop metaphors like folders and trash cans, Ethernet, printers, mice — the works. Four years later, Apple shipped the Lisa and a year after that, the Macintosh — both of which used concepts seen at PARC.

The conventional wisdom has become that Xerox PARC invented the networked graphical PC, and Jobs “stole” their ideas. But this is wrong on all counts.

Of course, there’s no question that Apple made major leaps of understanding and vision by visiting PARC. But what Apple created was not Xerox technology.


The idea that Apple stole Xerox’s mouse invention is totally wrong on all counts. This basic scenario is also true for many other Mac technologies seen at PARC.

Of course, some things the Apple engineers saw were in fact invented by Xerox, including bitmapping and Ethernet. But the biggest thing Apple got out of the visit was the big-picture vision of how a networked graphical personal computer and printers might function. The second thing was a whole lot of pointers and shortcuts to the solution to problems solved by PARC researchers.

But here’s the most important fact: Nothing was “stolen.”

Whatever Apple got from those three days was bought and paid for as part of a fair, legal, above-the-table business deal between Xerox and Apple.


The bottom line is that Jobs didn’t steal from Xerox. He paid for whatever he got, fair and square.

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