- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: HarperBusiness (April 5, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0887309895
- ISBN-13: 978-0887309892
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (88 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #232,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age Paperback – April 5, 2000
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Throughout the '70s and '80s, Xerox Corporation provided unlimited funding to a renegade think tank called the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Occupying a ramshackle building adjacent to Stanford University, PARC's occupants would prove to be the greatest gathering of computer talent ever assembled: it conceptualized the very notion of the desktop computer, long before IBM launched its PC, and it laid the foundation for Microsoft Windows with a prototype graphical user interface of icons and layered screens. Even the technology that makes it possible for these words to appear on the screen can trace its roots to Xerox's eccentric band of innovators. But despite PARC's many industry-altering breakthroughs, Xerox failed ever to grasp the financial potential of such achievements. And while Xerox's inability to capitalize upon some of the world's most important technological advancements makes for an interesting enough story, Los Angeles Times correspondent Michael Hiltzik focuses instead on the inventions and the inventors themselves. We meet fiery ringleader Bob Taylor, a preacher's son from Texas known as much for his ego as for his uncanny leadership; we trace the term "personal computer" back to Alan Kay, a visionary who dreamed of a machine small enough to tuck under the arm; and we learn how PARC's farsighted principles led to collaborative brilliance. Hiltzik's consummate account of this burgeoning era won't improve Xerox's stake in the computer industry by much, but it should at least give credit where credit is due. Recommended. --Rob McDonald --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Anyone who uses a personal computer is familiar with technologies pioneered by Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which started operation in 1970. The received wisdom is that Xerox muffed the chance to dominate the personal computer era by allowing revolutionary technologies developed at PARC to be snatched up by strangers and rivals (most famously, Apple, which took the mouse and the graphical user interface from PARC). L.A. Times reporter Hiltzik argues that the received wisdom is wrong. He expertly situates the story of which products actually made it to market for Xerox (e.g., the laser printer) and which technologies Xerox leaked away (WYSIWYG word processing, hypertext, Ethernet and TCP/IP, to name a few) in a broader analysis of the role of basic science research in business. He praises Xerox execs for understanding the difference between basic research and product development and for exempting PARC from the stultifying effect of having to do the latter. Among the many facts of life on the cutting edge that Hiltzik makes abundantly clear is that very bad decisions are often made for very good business reasons. While granting that Xerox could certainly have better exploited the new technologies issuing from PARC, he emphasizes that the company brought together "a group of superlatively creative minds at the very moment when they could exert maximal influence on a burgeoning technology, and financed their work with unexampled generosity." This is a top-notch business page-turner. Unburdened by any gee-whiz jaw-dropping, yet fully appreciative of the power of creative minds, it is informed by a sure understanding of the complex relationship between business and technology. Major ad/promo.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
In the 60's, Xerox set up a research center that created so much of what we know today-from the mouse to many aspects of programming, both HW and SW. The corporate execs blocked much of the success, including one idiot who refused to let Xerox market a PC with a mouse, because he did not like the mouse.
Apple, Microsoft, DEC and others saw the inventions and like the personnel. The personnel went to Apple, Microsoft and DEC.
It took a while to read, because so many chapters reminded me of execs I have worked for that were paranoid and excellent at saying 'no' but unable to say 'yes.' The demise of those firms have been very similar to the demise of Xerox. Once great, now plodding along in spite of the leadership.
This book is as much about the people as the technology and it does a great job of balancing the ideas, politics and excitement of the times. There is also a lot if insight into how large corporations operated at the time (and likely still do) and how infuriating bureaucracy can be, especially to technical and creative people such as engineers.
I spent a long time after completing the book researching various technologies, people and things that were brought up and covered.
The only downside with books like this is that they make me wish I was just a little older and was there in the early days of computing to share the passion and excitement.
It gave me, a person unfamiliar with the computer industry and its history, a very objective and interesting look inside. I believe the insights I gained from this book will be extremely helpful for many in businesses outside high tech and computers.
Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age
by Michael Hiltzik
How did Xerox go so wrong? According to Steve Jobs in 1996 "Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry today. Could have been, you know, a company ten times its size. Could have been ...". Published in 1999 "Dealers of Lightening" is an insight into how Xerox squandered a golden opportunity to monopolize the personal computer business - that it "fumbled the future".
So much for that - did the author see the future in 1999 more wisely than Xerox in the 1970 - 80's?
In 1999 the author summed up:
- "Apple committed a series of management blunders that today leaves its very existence in doubt."
- "At this writing Microsoft remains the single most formidable force in the computer industry."
- "For the science of computing is no longer at the historic inflection point it occupied at the start of the 1970's, when every step on the road of discovery was the equivalent of a giant leap into a new world."
- "This does not mean that great discoveries, even surprising ones, will not be made here and there by researchers working for corporations. It simply means that a certain quality once possessed by PARC in its extraordinary early years seems to have departed from the world of science and technology, perhaps forever. Call it magic."
Xerox got it wrong as skillfully and entertainingly chronicled in this book. But have sympathy and understanding. So, charmingly, did the author in this Epilogue "Did Xerox Blow It?".
28 May 2012
I might have considered five stars, but the editing is appalling, actually. Also, I did find that the names and timelines started to get confusing and blurred quite a bit. A table or two would have been helpful. It may be that the problem is just that these are not included in the Kindle version, I don't know.