Saturday, December 14, 2013
When you think about the big names in computing today, which companies spring to mind? Microsoft? Apple? Dell? IBM? Well of course they do, these are brands that are everywhere in the world of personal computing. And so anyone less than an IT boffin would be forgiven for presuming then that it’s companies such as these that were the ‘pioneers’ of the personal computer way back when.
But it wasn’t. It was Xerox. That name rings a bell, I hear you say, and that’s probably because it’s likely your office photocopier or printer is manufactured by the company. Xerox are also famed as the creators of the trusty fax machine (does anyone still use fax machines?). How, then, did the brains behind the PC end up demoted to selling a range of office support equipment? And when did Apple, IBM and their ilk take over?
The Xerox Alto
It all begun some 40 years ago when Xerox put together, for the first time, what looked like the PCs we know, use and love today (albeit less streamlined in design). A keyboard, a screen, a mouse and a graphical interface were all present and correct. The aim was simple: to create a computer that anybody and everybody could operate with ease. (Watch this Xerox Alto promotional video from 1974 for more.)
So why are you reading this on your Apple Mac Book? Where is your Xerox Sleekbook 3000? And why haven’t you come across a Xerox-branded Personal computer for as long as you can remember?
In the 1970s it appears that the tech guys at Xerox were less than concerned with the ability of PCs and far more pre-occupied with the development of the fax machine. Their fax machine was refined to include a photocopying and scanning function, which answered many problems with communication which a computer apparently couldn’t. Xerox thought PCs were a numbers game and overlooked their potential in communication, something other pioneers wouldn’t dismiss so lightly.
Too Good to be True
The guys at Xerox had found a clear gap in the market, but they just couldn’t comprehend the absolute goldmine they had uncovered. Why, if PCs were such a lustrous market, hadn’t IBM begun work on them yet? By burying their heads in the sand, Xerox bosses paved the way for those with a more keen interest in PC technology to take advantage of their research. Cue Steve Jobs of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft. It’s not surprising that these two are household names today, where as you’d be far reached to find someone who remembers the names of the Xerox Alto crew.
Some five years after the revolutionary Xerox Alto, the Apple Macintosh was created, with Xerox surrendering their crown for good. So while every man and his dog likely owns some form of Apple hardware, Xerox’s appeal is less widespread and limited to large office-based companies.
Were you too led to believe that computing giants of today were the original pioneers of the PC? Or did you know Xerox’s talents extended beyond the humble fax machine? Leave your comments in the box below.
Laura Beecroft is a writer who is constantly attached to her laptop computer, she blogs from it to divulge just how far personal computing has come.