By Gregory Pings

Xerox 8010 Star Screen

From the press package in 1981, the caption noted that most Star functions were available “simply by moving a pointer and pressing a key.” Photo courtesy of Xerox Historical Archives

As most people know, Xerox’s famed Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) invented the personal computer, along with many other underpinnings that have built the world of technology as we know it today – including networking, WYSIWYG editing, the GUI, and much more.

CNN’s upcoming* broadcast of “The Eighties” will give you a bit of history of the PC.

Thanks to Xerox historian Ray Brewer, I have a press release dated April 27, 1981, that describes “a personal information system for business professionals.” It was the Xerox 8010 Star information system – widely considered one of the most important milestones in the development of the modern PC age.

I’m struck by how much personal computing has changed, and how much it has stayed the same. From our press release:

“The Xerox 8010 Star information system includes a two-page desktop display, a keyboard, a small processor and an unusual control device.”

That last part (emphasis mine) describes the mouse, a word that did not appear in the press release. I am hard-pressed to think of a PC maker that would bother to mention “mouse” in a press release today – albeit for an entirely different reason: It’s pretty much considered standard equipment by now.

In addition to create, modify, store, and retrieve text, graphics and records, the press release also noted that users could…

“…distribute documents via electronic mail to local and remote system users on Xerox Ethernet local area communications networks.”

So, yes, we’re talking about the precursor to the Internet as we know it today.

The DigiBarn Computer Museum in California describes the Star 8010 as “the most complete implementation of the ‘Desktop Metaphor’ of any systems until the advent of mature Desktop graphical interfaces later on the Mac and PS/Unix/Linux in the 1990s. The (Star) systems were a full 15 years ahead of their time.”

Xerox 8010 Star WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG : What You See (on the screen) Is What You Get (on the printer). Photo courtesy of Xerox Historical Archives.

This chart, drawn by the director of the museum, highlights the Star’s role in the PC’s lineage.

There are, however, some things that have changed. According to that 1981 release, an introductory training session would ONLY take four hours to learn the basic functions of the machine. And the cost was $16,595, which included the basic software.

I think we’ve all come a long way.

Make technology work for us

This is more than celebrating a jade anniversary; and it’s much more than highlighting quaint descriptions of technology that we take for granted 35 years later.

Genius is not solely defined by invention. The true genius of invention is the human element – can a person actually use this thing? All inventions must, as PARC CEO Steve Hoover puts it, “solve the right problem in a way that people find natural and easy to use.”

As true today as ever.

Today at Xerox, we’ve taken the exploration of human/computer interaction well beyond the desktop. Our innovators are developing solutions that enable large organizations to benefit in real-time from the massive computing power that surrounds them. For example, last summer, working with the Public Sector and Transportation line of business in Xerox, we launched a product (CitySight©) for parking enforcement organizations in Los Angeles and Denver. CitySight provides users with integrated, data-driven decision-making tools aimed at making them and the entire parking enforcement organization more efficient. You’ll be hearing more about CitySight in the days to come.

In the meantime, read on to learn more on how we help humans and computers work together,  and how we use automated software bots to make work flow better.

* We originally said the broadcast was “tonight,” however this episode of “The Eighties” was rescheduled for May 5 a later date.