“Dealers of Lightning”

By Deane Barker on October 5, 2002

This is the story of Xerox’s famed Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). PARC was created as a research playground for Xerox engineers in the sixties. By the time its heyday was over 15 or so years later, PARC had developed such products as the laser printer, the mouse, the graphical user interface, etc.

The book will be interesting mainly to those already fascinated by the PARC legend. The book goes into great details about the people and personalities that made up the core of PARC during the time when it made breakthrough after breakthrough. It gets a bit confusing trying to remember all the people, but the story and the technology are compelling nonetheless.

Legend has it that PARC wasted Xerox’s talent by never taking advantage of anything they invented there. One of the most famous episodes was the visit by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Jobs was shown the first Windows-like interface and mouse pointing device, which many people say he then ripped off for Apple’s Macintosh. Is this true? No one knows, but it makes for a good story.

The epilogue to the book is whether or not Xerox could have made better use of the technology that was invented at PARC. The author says the chances of Xerox marketing most of it was about 50-50, as many of the inventions were very crude and only became popular after being refined by the marketplace for a number of years.

As for PARC itself, it’s still around. And although many like to claim that Xerox never made dime one off the center, this isn’t true. The laser printer was invented there and that item alone covered Xerox’s investment one hundred times over.