22 February 2008

Hitlary Mentions Xerox, Blogger Goes On Wintry Mix Tangent

Last night Campbell Brown raised the issue of similarities between Obama’s words and Deval Patrick’s (Deval is the Governor of Massachusetts).

Obama said that notion that he plagiarised from one of his national co-chairs is “silly,” before drifting from the topic:

“What I’ve been talking about in these speeches—and I gotta admit, some of them are pretty good. What I’ve been talking about is not just hope and not just inspiration, it’s a $4,000 tuition credit every year in exchange for national service so that college becomes affordable,” etc. Yadda yadda yadda...

The line was totally canned, but it also turned a question about attacks in the direction of substance. In her response, Hitlary naturally veered back to plagiarism:

“I think that if your candidacy is going to be about words, they should be your own words. Lifting whole passages from someone else’s speeches is not change what you can believe in, it’s change you can Xerox.”
I haven't heard someone say the word Xerox in probably 10 years. Instantly I was reminded me of the one tale I know regarding Xerox and how they basically invented the first ever personal computer but were basically too afraid to speak up and so IBM stole the idea. They were down with nazis anyway so they didn't give a fuck.

The head of Xerox, Peter McColough, personified the enlightened business statesman. He dabbled in Democratic politics, serving on prestigious charitable boards, spending millions of Xerox dollars to sponsor educational television, etc.

McColough moved the Xerox corporate headquarters from gritty Rochester to stuffy Stamford and became enamoured of something he called "an architecture of information," and in 1970 he commissioned the creation of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) to try to figure out what his own grandiose phrase even meant.

The Palo Alto Research Center was the theoretical spawning ground for the then-revolutionary notion that the immense power of mainframe computers could be brought to the desktops of individuals. And soon the engineers at the center built a machine, which they named "The Alto", that is considered to have been the world's first personal computer.

Xerox didn't stop there, however. They also produced a few other computer firsts – a pioneering word processing language, a "local area network" through which computers could talk to each other, a laser printer which they really ran with, and a "mouse" for moving characters on the computer screen.

Measured scientifically, these were remarkable achievements. However, measured by business standards PARC was a disappointment and Xerox was unable to translate its technological prowess into commercial success. Basically Xerox had come up with all this shit but couldn't figure out how to sell it to anyone because it was the 70's and people had no idea what a mouse was, what it could do or how they'd ever need or be able to use it. People still saw computers as these giant analog circuit board electronic abacuses which consumed entire rooms!

So when Xerox finally introduced a computer based on PARC technology into a market flooded with competitors, the machine was too expensive and too slow.

PARC scientists quickly developed a reputation for brilliance matched only by a reputation for bad manners. An alumnus of the center admits, "PARC suffered from a whole lot of arrogance" which would eventually become their downfall.

The Alto languished in the Palo Alto labs. Yet, despite revisions of the organisation charts, soaring pronouncements from top executives, and more money poured into research, Xerox was unable to change.

When the PARC scientists proudly displayed a personal computer at a 1977 management conference, the wives of the Xerox executives were enthralled by the graphics, the mouse, and the color printers. But the men, who had little understanding of office automation and a macho aversion to typewriter keyboards, peered in a standoffish way and asked, "Oh, can it do that?'"

The alarming theme is that American business is very thin in engineering know-how at the top. Engineering ignorance beset all senior executives at Xerox and no one had ever run a product development program. There was no one who could say that such and such should cost less or should be doable faster.

American companies are suffering from an "engineering gap" because they bury engineers deep within their organisations and give them little or no authority for the final product.

The Japanese, in contrast, give their engineers wide authority, lots of contact with customers, and overall responsibility for the end product. Superior design and engineering –not total dollars spent on research and development –are the major reasons why so many Japanese products work better and cost less.

Furthermore, in an entrepreneurial economy, for every corporate behemoth like Xerox that gets paralysed by oncoming headlights, there are hundreds of small, sleek enterprises ready to leap ahead.

And although Xerox has made a comeback in the copier business, it is still losing prodigious sums of money in electronics because of their failures at Palo Alto.

Fully half of the company's profits now come from a financial services arm, which sells stocks and insurance, and Xerox is frequently rumoured as a target for takeover.

And it wasn't Xerox, but brash start-ups like Sun Microsystems, Apple, Compaq, and of course Microsoft that converted the best of PARC's technologies into thriving new enterprises. In fact many of PARC's brightest scientists went on to work for these firms.

Xerox basically came up with the recipe but didn't know what to do with it and so other chefs (who weren't on a retainer) stepped in and started cooking and left Xerox holding a hot pan.

In conclusion, the Xerox computer was an incredible piece of technology in its time that displayed a lot of innovative ideas and impressed a good amount of people in the computer industry. Even though innovation is good, too much innovation is partially what caused it to fail. They just didn't have the balls to launch the goddamn thing, they just kept tweaking it and the arrogant geniuses at PARC who built the goddamn thing started getting anxious. They knew what they had but realised Xerox had tied their hands behind their backs. Xerox had paid them to invent something to give Peter McColough's architecture of information catchphrase a meaning and now they had and Xerox was just shuffling its little cold, copy machine feet.

Xerox had made its mark in the computer industry but it couldn't shake its image as a copier company. You hear Xerox and you think 'photocopies', you'd never think 'computers', no matter how hard they tried and no matter how much $ they spent and I think they realised this. To this day that is why people are oft confused when they hear Xerox actually built the first PC. "XEROX?! The copy machine company?!" Yes, them, you blathering fool.

Related: "The Contributions and the Downfall of the Xerox Star" by John Redant

Somewhat Related: "IBM and the Holocaust; IBM's carefully crafted corporate collusion with the Third Reich" by me

1 comment:

Marianne Faulkner said...

Wait, does that mean Xerox did GUI before Apple? You just blew my mind. And ruined my life... Okay, maybe not really, but I guess that'll knock us apple users down a peg.