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Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is the flagship research division of
the Xerox Corporation. It is based in Palo Alto, California, USA, and was
founded in 1970.
PARC's founding director, George Pake, was an outstanding physicist in the
area of nuclear magnetic resonance. Dr. Pake had been serving as provost of
Washington University in 1969 when he was courted by Jack Goldman, Chief
Scientist at Xerox. If Jack Goldman was chiefly responsible for Xerox
founding, and generously funding, a research center, then George Pake was
chiefly responsible for siting PARC in Palo Alto -- 3,000 miles away from
Xerox PARC was the birthplace of many foundations of modern computing,
including many aspects of the Graphical user interface (GUI), the mouse **,
the WYSIWYG text editor, the laser printer, the desktop computer, the
Smalltalk programming language, Interpress (a resolution-independent
graphical page description language and the precursor to PostScript), and
Xerox is often critized for failing to commercialize on their amazing
inventions. A favorite example is the GUI, initially developed at Xerox PARC
for the Alto and then commercialized as the Xerox Star by the Xerox Systems
Development Division. It is deemed a failure because it only sold
approximately 25 thousand units. The first successful commercial GUI product
was the Apple Macintosh, which built on the earlier Apple Lisa -- also a
What is misunderstood is the impact of those systems. It has taken at least
two decades for much of the technology in these systems to be surpassed. The
commercial viability of the interfaces and technology that PARC pioneered
has become the standard for much of the computing industry, once their
merits became common knowledge.
It is legend that Xerox management consistently failed to see the potential
of many of the PARC inventions; and while there is some truth to this it is
also an over-simplification. They certainly understood the value of laser
printing, and advances coming from the non-computer focused part of PARC.
(Most people don't realize there was a large number of researchers working
on materials science at PARC, for example pioneers in LCD production.)
The work at PARC in the years since the early 1980s is often overlooked, but
major work since then includes Ubiquitous computing aka Pervasive Computing,
and Aspect-oriented programming to name but two.
On January 4, 2002, Xerox PARC was incorporated as an independent company.
** Xerox adapted the invention of the mouse from the user interface research
of Douglas Engelbart at SRI (Stanford Research Institute), of Menlo Park, California.