Did Steve Jobs steal everything from Xerox PARC?

Macintosh-Developer Andy Hertzfeld said in an Interview with CNET:

Q: What’s your response when people say the Mac engineers stole everything from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center?
A: I just say, well, someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe in the very broadest sense we were inspired by Xerox. But literally no code was taken, I mean not a single line of code.
Q: Didn’t a lot of people join Apple from Xerox?
A: Just one person on the Mac team, more on the Lisa team–four or five. Many of the ones who came from PARC came after the Mac shipped. Alan Kay, who was the visionary and driving force behind Xerox PARC, came to work at Apple just about the time I was leaving, in March 1984. Once he came there, about 10 PARC people came.

 

Screen des Xerox Star
The screen of the Xerox Star

In contrast to the first Mac, the Alto featured no completed desktop metaphor nor ingenious desktop icons such as the trash can, which made it easier to delete files, and not just for computer novices. The historical accomplishments of the Mac team also included the Macintosh Human Interface Guide, which, for instance, when it detected a document in a Macintosh application, determined that it was to be saved using the command “Apple-S.”

Apple Lisa 2 screenshot
Apple Lisa 2 screenshot – © Apple Computer, Inc.

Although much influenced by the work at Xerox PARC, Apple engineers developed their Lisa computer’s similar graphical user interface from scratch. The commercial failure of the Lisa was a result of its high price and poor performance, not its features.

As for Xerox, the bitter aftertaste of having missed an historical opportunity remained, particularly due to the fact that parallel to the Apple developers, Bill Gates and his Microsoft crew also went in and out as they pleased. (By the way, they did so without holding an admission ticket comparable to the one Jobs had procured by means of the stock deal.)

Steve Jons in 1995: “(Xerox) Could have been, you know, a company ten times its size. Could have been IBM – could have been the IBM of the nineties. Could have been the Microsoft of the nineties.”

Besides, in the context of the dispute with Apple about the plagiarism accusations around the first Windows versions, Microsoft had pointed out that Apple and Microsoft had both helped themselves generously at XEROX.

In the early ’80s Steve Jobs needed help from Bill Gates: Apple was developing its first Macintosh. Microsoft, which had supplied IBM with the MS-DOS operating system for its PCs, was invited to be the Mac’s first software developer. Early Mac developer Andy Hertzfeld says that when Jobs recruited Microsoft he feared it “might try to copy our ideas into a PC. Steve made Microsoft promise not to ship any software that used a mouse – until at least one year after the first shipment of the Macintosh”.
In 1983, Microsoft sprang a surprise with a new operating system for PCs using an interface like the Mac’s – Windows. Jobs “went ballistic”, demanding an explanation and saying: “I want him in this room by tomorrow afternoon, or else.”
Gates arrived alone to find himself surrounded by 10 Apple employees. “You’re ripping us off,” Jobs shouted.
But Gates looked him in the eye, and said in his squeaky voice, “Well, Steve, I think there’s more than one way of looking at it. I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbour named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”

Apple sued Microsoft in 1988. Six years later a judge threw the case out.

Christoph Dernbach

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Book cover: Revolution in The Valley
Book cover: Revolution in The Valley

James Turner from O’Reilly News interviewed Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original designers of the Macintosh and author of the book, Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How the Mac Was Made, which chronicles the efforts to create the Mac. Andy Hertzfeld currently works at Google as a Software Engineer. In this Interview James Turner asked some questions about Xerox PARC and the development of the Mac:

JT: In your book you allude to Xerox as being, to Bill Gates, the rich uncle that both Apple and Microsoft stole from. What was the relationship like with PARC when you were developing the Mac and how did the Xerox researchers feel about the Mac?

AH: Well, we had no formal relationship with PARC while we were developing the Mac. We got a single demo before the Mac project got off the ground, when the LISA project, that sort of cousin or bigger brother of the Mac, was in development. And so from that one demo we were already pointed in that direction but I would say that Xerox PARC demo galvanized and reinforced our strong opinion that the graphic user-interface was the way to go. And then the influence of PARC was strong in the project, but not through a formal relationship with PARC; more through PARC people getting wind of what we were doing and coming to work at Apple. The very first one was Tom Malloy on the LISA project. He was sort of a disciple of Charles Simonyi–I write about that a little bit in my book. He was one of the original LISA people who came to Apple in 1978. But later, Larry Tessler was a really key figure coming to the LISA team in the summer of 1980 from Xerox PARC and eventually, mostly after the original Mac shipped, there were a dozen or more. Another person I have to mention is Bruce Horn who started working at Xerox PARC when he was 14 years old; he was one of those kids they picked from a Palo Alto High School to teach Smalltalk to and he was one of the four or five key Macintosh developers. And of course he was steeped in all of the PARC values and through Bruce, a lot of them made it into the Macintosh.

JT: Was there any feeling among the Apple engineers that any – guilt is probably too strong a word, but feeling like you know Xerox had these great ideas. I guess Xerox really let them go to waste but–

AH: Oh there was nothing like that; Steve Jobs has a good quote. It’s actually a Picasso quote that he often cites; he cited it at one of our retreats which was sort of good artists copy; great artists steal. And what that means is that when you’re passionate about what you’re doing you’ll take ideas from anywhere and with no guilt. You want to make the best possible thing and that was our mentality.

JT: I have to say I actually worked for Xerox AI Systems in 1986 and it was kind of frustrating because they really had the mentality there that if you couldn’t sell paper and toner for [them] they weren’t interested.

AH: Oh sure. Xerox in a well-documented fashion – they had at least the possibility of having the world at their feet there with the work that Alan Kay and his team did. But yeah; they completely blew it and most of the best PARC people were really frustrated by the Xerox management. There’s no doubt of that; that’s one of the reasons why Steve Jobs is great. You had someone leading the company who could relate to the customers and appreciate things.

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Interview CNET with Andy Hertzfeld

What’s your response when people say the Mac engineers stole everything from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center?
I just say, well, someone doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe in the very broadest sense we were inspired by Xerox. But literally no code was taken, I mean not a single line of code.
Didn’t a lot of people join Apple from Xerox?
Just one person on the Mac team, more on the Lisa team–four or five. Many of the ones who came from PARC came after the Mac shipped. Alan Kay, who was the visionary and driving force behind Xerox PARC, came to work at Apple just about the time I was leaving, in March 1984. Once he came there, about 10 PARC people came.
What was the attraction, that Apple could get the technology into the market?
Yeah, sure. The people developing the stuff at Xerox PARC were different types of people. Some were professorial and academic, and they didn’t really care if their stuff was used by people. They just wanted to explore new ideas. They were happy there. But the people who wanted to make an impact on the world and improve the lives of their friends and stuff like that, they were very frustrated–nothing ever came out. So they saw Apple come out with something that embodied all of their ideals, but their kid brother could afford it. They were very attracted to that. They came to Apple to make a difference.

Kids playing with a prototype of the Xerox Alto

See also:

Myth: Copyright Theft, Apple Stole GUI from Xerox PARC Alto | Obama Pacman.

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63 comments

  1. Tour or trade show? He and Apple didn’t steal anything it was part of an investment agreement that xerox greatly benefited from. I don’t understand how even Walter Issacson can also claim Steve “stole” the technology shortly after mentioning how he acquired it in the first place. People love to point the finger.

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