“Dealers of Lightning” the legendary story of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Written by Los Angeles Times corespondent, Michael Hiltzik. The Book brings together moments behind the research labs trailblazing technological achievements. Hiltzik also gives you vast amounts of insight and information about such people as Jack Goldman, Xerox chief scientists who convinced the corporation to sink tens of millions of dollars into PARC, while acknowledging that it may never pay off; Alan Kay PARC’s philosophical soul, who was ridiculed for many years envisioning a computer that could be tucked under the arm yet would contain the power to store books, letters, and drawings until he arrived at Palo Alto and met the people who would build it. Finally Steve Jobs, who staged a daring raid to obtain the technology that would end up at the heart of the Macintosh.
In the late 1960s, Xerox founded a PARC, California. Eventually, that facility, became ground zero of the computer revolution. the dinosaur era of computing, a typical machine filled a large room and was shared by dozens of researchers. Hiltzik credits Robert W. Taylor, who assembled the PARC team, with changing that.
A psychologist, rather than an engineer, Taylor’s vision of the computer as a communications device proved to be a revolutionary idea. He found his chance to realize it when Xerox’s chief scientist Jacob Goldman persuaded his superiors to launch a basic research facility along the line of AT&T’s famed Bell Labs. Xerox management, more interested in marketable products than in pure science, nearly killed the center before it opened. But Taylor gradually built his team of young computer hotshots, and the innovations flowed: mouse, Ethernet, even the term “Personal Computer”. By 1973, a team led by Chuck Thacker had created Alto, a computer small enough to fit under a desk. The first program of the so-called “Alto” displayed an animated graphic as a test of the user interface: Cookie Monster, from Sesame Street.
Two years later, Xerox was selling a mail-order computer kit called Altair 8800, which inspired young hobbyist such as Bill Gates. Yet except for the laser printer, Xerox consistently failed to exploit PARC’s innovations. The only other was released in September 1980, when Xerox, Intel, and Digital Equipment jointly issued a formal specification for the Ethernet and made it publicly available for a nominal licensing fee. This move made Ethernet the networking technology of choice.
But remember; even the technology that makes it possible to type this paper can trace its roots to Xerox’s 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, Hiltzik focuses instead on the inventions and the inventors themselves. You can trace the term “Personal Computer” back to Alan Kay, a visionary who dreamed of a machine small enough to tuck under the arm. Granted, PARC’s farsighted principles led to collaborative brilliance even so Hiltzik’s claim that the Alto was the world’s first personal computer, seams overstated; his strictly technological, mine involving price and marketing.
However, in writing the book Hiltzik drew on the recollections of those who participated in the technological revolution of the 1970’s He interviewed all the obvious suspects and not a few innocent bystanders. Long before IBM launched its PC and laid the foundation for Microsoft’s Windows with a prototype graphical user interface of icons and layered screens. After seventy pages where Hiltzik begins to tediously describes how the PARC employees were hired, in order to get to the good stuff. Then Hiltzik never quite leaves alone the personality clashes and company politics. Not, that it isn’t, interesting. And the PARC story seems to indicate that such interpersonal dynamics make or break some companies.
But it became tiresome. Readers will find difficulty in starting this book because of the people crap. They may also find the text on technology weak and thinly covered, despite glimmers of interesting comments about software and hardware, such as Smalltalk’s role and the birth of the laser printer. But the book could have lost one hundred