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Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, then Ignored, the First Personal Computer Paperback


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Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, then Ignored, the First Personal Computer + Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age + Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 276 pages
  • Publisher: iUniverse (June 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583482660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583482667
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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That perspective of the book I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend it for that.
Bas Vodde
Now fast-forward to 2012 and sadly nothing has changed - in fact, the situation is probably a little worse than it was back in the 90s.
Allan M. Lees
This theme was almost as important to me as the story of PARC although I had already read that story in Hiltzik's book.
Michael T Kennedy

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 4, 2003
Format: Paperback
I lived through these years on the 10th Floor at Xerox Corporation Systems Headquarters, El Segundo, California - as a Systems Administrator for New Product Development and Training. The book is accurate, but misses one very, very important point: The "Leadership" at Xerox Corporation at this time did not, repeat not, have the "best intentions". On the contrary, they were "Box People" (copier people) who did not have a clue about how to take advantage of this technology. In 1984 we did an internal survey of middle and upper management regarding use of the applications for the Star/Distributed Net (specifically email and Viewpoint software applications for those of you "in the know"). It found that while 76-percent of first and second level management used these applications on a daily or multiple-weekly basis, less than 10-percent of upper and executive management did so (the figure was under 5-percent on returns from Rochester and Stamford). Is this evidence of knowledge or having the "best intentions"? Those of us who did have the knowledge of the potential benefits were in middle management and could see those benefits to our own organisations at that time. We reported on these benefits, talked about them, begged people to come and see for themselves...for years...nothing happened. Many of us grew so frustrated we left (I was one, in 1989), although we still loved (and love) our exciting times at "Brand X". Some stayed, and watched Xerox "retreat" back to a primarily copier/printer company (and in doing so it crushed many a spirit).Read more ›
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Henry Cate III on December 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
As most people in the computer industry know Xerox pioneered many of the key breakthroughs in the computer industry, but then they were not able to capitalize on the technology they developed. Many, many other companies have made billions of dollars; however, Xerox just couldn't figure out how to reap the benefits.
The authors of "Fumbling the Future" go into this history in great detail. They first set the stage by describing Xerox's early history, how Xerox invented a copier, and for a number of years they were so successful that they were able to basically print money. Many of the major players in the industry are mentioned, their goals and interests. Xerox was very aggressive, and in some ways they were also a bit lucky, with the copier. Then Xerox decided they needed to also get into the computer industry.
Next the authors talk about how the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) was created, how George Pake selected various key people to help staff the research center, and the charter PARC was given. The book goes over who was hired, what they did, and how the groups at PARC worked together, and sometimes didn't work together.
Here is where you can start to see the train wreck. The first President of Xerox, Joe Wilson, seems to have been a very gifted leader. In terms of "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, Joe Wilson was a level five leader. Unfortunately Joe Wilson dies, and the next president of Xerox, Peter McColough, was at best a level four leader. Peter decided to spend almost a billion dollars for a niche science computer company which Peter then tried to force out into the general computer market, going up against IBM. Peter also took Xerox into Medicine and Education. And Peter got involved in Politics and Charities.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have been a fan of the story of Xerox PARC ever since reading "Fumbling the Future" several years ago. In fact the lessons I learned contributed to my leaving engineering to get a business degree. Recently I read "Dealers of lightning" by Michael Hiltzik and was surprised to read through it and come across the Epilogue. In fact, I was actually disturbed by how easily the author relieved Xerox of its opportunity (and obligation from a shareholders perspective) to capitalize on the creativity and ingenuity of Xerox PARC. Those of us within the high-tech community certainly appreciate the open ended research that Xerox PARC conducted which has lined the pockets of so many that were never in any way associated with Xerox. However, if I was a shareholder of Xerox or any other company, I would be horrified by any management rationale that 'you are not obligated to exploit the technologies created within your labs'. Granted you may not be able to exploit all, but how about most? Xerox is not the government and is not using tax dollars for a collective good. I found the logic flawed and violates the basic motivations for establishing a commercial entity. I would recommend that for a business minded individual that you go read "Fumbling the Future" - which I have since reread. Reading "Dealers of lightning" was like watching a lawyer weave a case for premeditated murder against an accused and then claim temporary insanity as the final defense.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Allan Heydon on May 27, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book tells the fascinating story of the invention of the first distributed personal computer systems at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), and how a copier company that had grown to over $1 billion in revenue in less than 10 years based on a single new technology (photocopying) was unable to capitalize on a new technology again, despite the best intentions of its leaders.
The really innovative work at PARC was done under the direction of Bob Taylor. When Taylor was forced out, he started DEC's Systems Research Center (SRC) (later acquired by Compaq, and then HP), and he brought much of the top talent along with him.
I read this book on Bob Taylor's recommendation when I first joined DEC SRC as a researcher. But I decided to read it again recently before attending a talk by George Pake, the founding director of PARC. Pake's history of PARC agreed with the book, but he drew very different conclusions about the overall benefit of PARC's inventions to Xerox. In particular, Pake gave far more credit to PARC for contributing to Xerox, but all the examples he gave related to how computer technology has come to be used in photocopiers, which entirely misses the point. As the book's subtitle suggests, most of PARC's astounding computer innovations were largely squandered by Xerox (and "borrowed" by Steve Jobs to create the Apple Macintosh).
The first time I read the book, I was fresh out of school and didn't have much experience in the business world, so the parts of the book dealing with business issues were mostly a mystery to me. This time, it made much more sense, and I actually found the business aspects of the story more intriguing than the technical ones. Even so, the story of the first bit-mapped display, laser printer, ethernet, personal computer, and WYSIWYG editing software -- innovations we take largely for granted today -- is quite interesting!
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