Xerox PARC Definition

Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was established in 1970 by Xerox Corporation in Palo Alto, California.

Xerox assembled a team of world-class researchers in the information and physical sciences and gave them the mission to create the architecture of information. At its peak, PARC produced an array of innovations that few other research facilities have been able to match and was the source of many computer technologies that remain among the most useful decades later.

These advances include the GUI (graphical user interface), the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text editor, the laser printer, the desktop computer (named the Alto), Ethernet (the dominant type of local area network), Smalltalk (the pioneering object-oriented programming language) and Interpress (a graphical page description language that was the precursor to PostScript). Although the mouse was not invented there (but rather at nearby Stanford Research Institute in 1965), PARC was a pioneer in its application.

The Alto, which embodied many of PARC's innovations, featured a unique desktop environment that contained icons, documents and folders which were manipulated by a mouse. Ethernet networking was also developed in order to connect multiple Altos together to form a distributed system that shared information and resources (such as printers).

Xerox has been criticized for failing to commercialize PARC's advances. In particular, it sold only about 25,000 units of a computer based on the Alto, apparently due to its high price. However, computer research was only a small part of PARC's activities, and much work was also being carried out in other fields, including materials science and optics. Many of these innovations were eventually used in Xerox's laser printers and other products.

Undoubtedly one of the biggest beneficiaries of PARC's computer-related innovations was Apple Computer, whose Macintosh became the first commercially successful personal computer to incorporate a GUI and mouse. This came about as a result of a now famous 1979 visit by Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder, to PARC where he was highly impressed by the numerous (about 150) Altos in use there.

PARC is still very much in existence, and it has been operating as an independent company since January 2002.

Created June 16, 2004.
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