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Reinventing Xerox PARC As a Money Maker

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the with-a-method-or-mechanism-for-shaking-it dept.

Businesses 99

bonch writes "After a historical reputation for not monetizing breakthrough technologies (including the mouse and desktop GUI), Xerox PARC is now focused on making money from its inventions. CEO Anne Mulcahy vowed in 2001 to return the company to profitability, encouraging 'open innovation' and mandating that research turned a profit. The latest innovation is thin-film printed electronics, intended for a variety of products, from RFID readers to price labels."

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99 comments

CEO Still There!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38459182)

In this day and age, I'm shocked that a CEO has been with a company for 10 years!

Opps... Wait. She was succeeded by her long time work associate, when she retired.

Does this mean Xerox has a chance?

Re:CEO Still There!?! (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38459550)

Nope. As a former Xeroid who worked with senior management and around a certain place in Palo Alto my studied opinion is that they have no chance in Hell. They pissed away lots of talent and money so that those left at PARC are either waiting to retire or useless academics escaped from a university. Xerox Management, especially Mulcahy burned so many people and bridges that nothing good will ever come from Xerox again.

Re:CEO Still There!?! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38463418)

It's worse under Ursula.

As a former Xeroid who was sold as part of the HCL outsourcing deal (and now a former HCLite) let me tell you that Xerox has given up on engineering. Everything must be done for cents that used to be done for a dollar. Institutional knowledge is leaving in droves and the outsourcing company has a deluded form of hubris where it thinks it will be able to take on complex engineering work with virtually no transfer of knowledge.

It's all about Empowerment and Passion... these lazy Americans are not passionate or empowered. HCL can take on decades of knowledge from big engineering teams in a couple of weeks using fresh graduates that come and go for a few weeks at a time.

Xerox sold one sixth of its permanent engineering workforce to these loonies that screw up wherever they go - just google it (*cough* dreamliner *cough*).

Don't believe the bullcrap about innovation. It's the same old crap about patenting the hell out of every stupid component or line of code so that the competition can be milked or sued out of business. Everything is about costdowns to be cheap as the competition, never mind about being better... no point when everyone's selling the same cheap crap.

You need to google for how Xerox tried to screw over its manufacturing staff in Wilsonville. 50% pay cuts? The workers got a clue and unionised before it was too late.

When ACS acquired Xerox, Xerox became a services company.

Thanks a bunch Ursula and Wim. Don't pull the rip cord too hard on those golden parachutes next August.

Re:CEO Still There!?! (1)

garyebickford (222422) | more than 2 years ago | (#38464462)

You need to google for how Xerox tried to screw over its manufacturing staff in Wilsonville. 50% pay cuts? The workers got a clue and unionised before it was too late.

Ha, funny. I used to work in Wilsonville, when it was new, owned by Tektronix, and primarily full of engineering staff (Information Display Division). :D My group was the first one from that facility that got laid off - but I saw it coming and had already accepted a job elsewhere.

Re:CEO Still There!?! (4, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459658)

Does this mean Xerox has a chance?

Xerox PARC hasn't existed for a long time. PARC was sold off. It is not affiliated with Xerox and lacks most of what made Xerox PARC cool in the first place.

Oh, and it's a mistake to say, as TFA claims, that PARC was famous for failing to commercialise its inventions. I can think of at four things off the top of my head that made Xerox more money than the total operating costs of PARC for the entire time that Xerox ran it.

Re:CEO Still There!?! (3, Informative)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459840)

PARC was sold off.

You should have told them that as they don't seem to know. In fact, they even contradict your position on their website: PARC - A Xerox company.

Damn companies keep thinking they know who they are better than Slashdotters that don't even RTFS, much less RTFA.

Re:CEO Still There!?! (1)

Rary (566291) | more than 2 years ago | (#38461164)

Xerox PARC hasn't existed for a long time. PARC was sold off. It is not affiliated with Xerox and lacks most of what made Xerox PARC cool in the first place.

PARC is now an independent entity, which is not the same as being sold off. It now researches on behalf of other entities besides Xerox, but Xerox remains its largest customer.

Re:CEO Still There!?! (2)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38461776)

PARC is now an independent entity, which is not the same as being sold off. It now researches on behalf of other entities besides Xerox, but Xerox remains its largest customer.

Closer, but still not correct. PARC is an independent subsidiary, but fully owned by Xerox.

For a tech savvy bunch, we can't seem to use the internet well.
http://www.parc.com/content/newsroom/factsheet_parc.pdf [parc.com]

Founder of Xerox PARC passes away (4, Informative)

quacking duck (607555) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459190)

Talk about creepy timing.

Jacob Goldman, Founder of Xerox Lab, Dies at 90 [nytimes.com]

In this article they even discuss criticisms of Xerox not commercializing technologies developed at PARC.

Re:Founder of Xerox PARC passes away (2)

morgauxo (974071) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459638)

She killed him.

Re:Founder of Xerox PARC passes away (2)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459986)

She actually reincorporated PARC as a company intended to make a profit (rather than doing pure R&D) 10 years ago, so I doubt it.

More like someone saw that he had died, then looked into what PARC is doing right now and wrote an article about it.

Yay! (2)

klingens (147173) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459224)

Another corporation similar to Rambus which invents stuff and then demands royalties for licenses and patents. Just what we needed for economic growth!

Re:Yay! (5, Informative)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459302)

Another corporation similar to Rambus which invents stuff and then demands royalties for licenses and patents.

Not at all. PARC invents things and then licenses their inventions to those that would like to commercialize them. Rambus patented something they managed to get written into a JEDEC specification.

You are free to choose whether or not you use PARCs IP. Rambus tried to make it impossible to conform to an industry specification without infringing on their IP.

One is a business, one is a troll. If you can't tell the difference, then too bad for you.

Re:Yay! (2)

Stellian (673475) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459710)

It seems to me that if an independent research lab can invent the building blocks of the modern PC and not profit from it, than clearly a large corporation with limitless resources and pressured by a competitive market can innovate without the need of a patent system. The innovation was "stolen" by the competition ? Great, work on getting it cheaper, or work on the next big thing, without a comfy patent that can neuter the competition. So how about we ditch this patent system altogether ?

I'm not saying Xerox PARC does not deserve to profit from it's creations - they certainly deserve it much more than the patent trolls. I'm saying that if they XP can sustain a high level of innovation without proportional compensation, that's a clear argument against the need for profitable patents as a method for of stimulating innovation. The economic cost of the patent system is higher than the value it delivers through innovation: XP was able to deliver phenomenal results with limited compensation.

One one hand profitable patents are not necessary for innovation as explained above, and on the other hand patents are frequently harmful to innovation: patent trolls, preventing the competition from building on your invention etc.

Re:Yay! (2)

clodney (778910) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460192)

It seems to me that if an independent research lab can invent the building blocks of the modern PC and not profit from it, than clearly a large corporation with limitless resources and pressured by a competitive market can innovate without the need of a patent system.

No corporation has limitless resources. Even behemoths like Google or MS or Apple have pressures to limit spending. What corps with big cash reserves can do is invest in a large number of areas, knowing that most of them will never payoff, looking for the big winner.

The economic cost of the patent system is higher than the value it delivers through innovation: XP was able to deliver phenomenal results with limited compensation.

One one hand profitable patents are not necessary for innovation as explained above, and on the other hand patents are frequently harmful to innovation: patent trolls, preventing the competition from building on your invention etc.

Without patent protection the bar for finding the "big winner" is substantially higher, and therefore the appetite for corporate research arms like PARC or Bell Labs will be significantly lower.

Re:Yay! (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 2 years ago | (#38465194)

Another corporation similar to Rambus which invents stuff and then demands royalties for licenses and patents.

How DARE them! Inventing useful stuff that we use every day, and expecting PAYMENT for it!?!

Go back to your teepee, hippie.

Is that really their job? (5, Interesting)

CaptainLard (1902452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459228)

Is it a researcher's job to make a profit? The point of research is to learn something new, whether it works or not. Then its up to the business side to decide what to do with it. Perhaps instead of mandating that PARC must make money, the management should mandate they make smarter decisions on which inventions are marketable or not instead of giving away the mouse and GUI. Hows that 11 year old quest to return to profitability going?

Re:Is that really their job? (2)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459494)

CaptainLard:

Is it a researcher's job to make a profit? The point of research is to learn something new, whether it works or not.

Ray Stanz:

I've worked in the private sector. They expect results.

Re:Is that really their job? (3, Insightful)

CaptainLard (1902452) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459720)

Fair enough. Then the first order of business should be to change the name from PARC to PAPDC (palo alto product development center) so no one gets confused.

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460460)

If you work in a for-profit entity your job is to make them money, no matter what your title is.

Re:Is that really their job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38461292)

Um.... No. Not really. Not in this case.
You see, the term 'research' in Palo Alto Research Center means just that. They research. They do not do DEVELOPMENT. That would be the 'D' in R&D. This is not, as has been pointed out before, PAR&DC. If Xerox Corporation decides not to develop what they have researched that's the CEO's decision to make. If Xerox decides PARC is suddenly a development center, that is also the CEO decision. If you decide that PARC should have done a better job developing what they researched, that is NOT YOUR DECISION. You would be wrong... and an idiot. More an idiot, really, but also very, very wrong.

But still an idiot.

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38466730)

Everyone in a for-profit company has a responsibility to do things that at the very least have the potential and intention of leading to a profit; otherwise they are defrauding the owners. That includes researchers. It may not be the responsibility of researchers to develop a product (the fields overlap), but it's their responsibility not to waste the company's money and their own lives. If the research does not lead to a product, that waste is precisely what happens.

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

shaitand (626655) | about 2 years ago | (#38482770)

I don't recall saying anything about development? I said that if you work for a for-profit entity your job is to make that entity money. You are a member of a team and your decisions should be colored by that teams objectives and goals.

If you are a researcher you should be researching things that you believe ultimately have the potential to make your company money.

Re:Is that really their job? (5, Insightful)

captbob2002 (411323) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459640)

My thinking, too. Was it PARC's fault that Xerox did not follow-up on the inventions they created? Management was too busy thinking about making paper copies rather then looking ahead.

Kodak has been in the news, too, of late due to their financial issues. Perhaps when they were doing their ground-breaking work in digital imaging it didn't look like it could be a money maker - since their work predates ubiquitous PCs in every home. But once the PC revolution started to really take off in the late eighties and early nineties and the emergence of the World Wide Web they should have revisited their digital imaging decisions.

If the "captains of industry" in the US did more navigating by the stars and a little less dead-reckoning perhaps their firms would not be on the ropes.

Re:Is that really their job? (3, Funny)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 2 years ago | (#38461612)

If the "captains of industry" in the US did more navigating by the stars and a little less dead-reckoning perhaps their firms would not be on the ropes.

Less astrology, more necromancy!

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#38462926)

Xerox did try to productize a lot of things. They did sell the Alto and Dorado workstations, which were slick items. But they were a bit early in the workstation market so that later offerings were cheaper and more flexible with broader appeal. You can't blame PARC for that. Maybe Xerox decided they didn't want to be a full blown workstation company.

Re:Is that really their job? (4, Interesting)

boristdog (133725) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459868)

Research is a tough game. I used to work at a research consortium that was funded by several large corporations. In their heyday in the 80's they made a ton of money inventing actual new things (Diamondvision was one) and spun off successful companies with each big commercial invention. But a lot of the research was pretty humdrum and just went to improved technology (and patents) for the funding companies. Some of the research was promising but still hasn't really paid off. Much of that has been transferred to other organizations since the demise of the organization.

<Rant>
How did it die? Someone though it would be good to run it more like a corporation with a big name CEO who knew nothing about technology - seriously, the guy's secretary had to print out his e-mails for him to read, and she typed his handwritten responses back into the computer. He brought on more clueless fucktards at the executive level...and eventually they all bankrupted a well-funded non-profit organization with their huge salaries, perks, bonuses and some outright theft. I managed to leave just a few weeks before one of the executive staff just took several million and left. Because of the dirt he had on the other execs, he was never prosecuted. They are the 1%.

</Rant>

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

Anonymous Crobar (1143477) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460364)

The point of government research is to learn something new, whether it works or not.

FTFY. Commercial research, as you pointed out further down, includes product development. (Of course, it also includes developing things that help you develop the products as well.) Xerox PARC was/is funded by the sale of copy machines. It isn't unreasonable to require researchers to focus on developing products that help fund more research.

You shouldn't expect Xerox to fund projects that are solely designed to learn something new. Sometimes they will and that is great, but at the end of the day, the responsibility for funding high-risk research (the research that commercial labs often build upon) rests solely on the government.

Re:Is that really their job? (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460890)

Is it a researcher's job to make a profit?

At a corporation, it's a researcher's job to do work that supports the bottom line. This is why publicly-funded research is critical, and I don't mean baby-killer grants, either. When you start depending on corporate money to fund "public" research you end up with the situation we have today where corporations use up grad students without even having to pay them, wind up owning patents that they get to sell back to us at our expense, or worse, burying the technology like BP and DuPont are doing with Butanol through their shell company Butamax or WTFever it's named.

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

toxonix (1793960) | more than 2 years ago | (#38461298)

I worked on one project that was exactly 7 years ahead of its time. Management laid us all off and said "this will be cool in 7 years, but right now its not feasible". Sure enough, exactly 7 years later I was playing HALO head to head with people across the country in real time on a broadband connection to my house. Some of our team got picked up by Microsoft to work on XBox Live fortunately. Xerox CAN make PARC profitable, but they actually have to make products out of research. Xerox is looking for more basic patents, like xerography. Basic patents are more and more difficult to come by. Perhaps the 'age of enlightenment' is over. Maybe bookface and smart phones are the best we can come up with.

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#38462804)

If they had tried to monetize the mouse and GUI more then those technologies could have backfired. Similarly if AT&T had been allowed to monetize UNIX early on then I think it would have fizzled. Sometimes things take off and become successful precisely because they're not locked down by people intent on a profit. The big advantage of Apple getting ahold of the GUI was that it made it accessible on small computer and not only the $10K workstations. People also experimented with a lot of different input devices similar to a mouse; touch screens, trackballs, pen tablets, buttons around the side of the screen, etc, so locking down the mouse and requiring a hefty licensing free would have caused some other technique to be more common and have hurt adoption on smaller computers. (probably we'd have a pointing device without buttons to avoid patent issues)

And as you say, the point of research is to come up with these new goofy ideas. Some research labs subsist on government grants and contracts for these reasons instead of being locked down into only researching stuff that will help the bottom line in the short term.

Also the research labs are not in a good position to make profits off of the inventions. It's up to the rest of the company to turn the rough ideas into real products, get efficient manufacturing, provide marketing and customer support, etc. It would have been ridiculous to tell Doug Engelbart that he was now in charge of productizing his new mouse.

Re:Is that really their job? (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38466900)

Nothing but management shortsightedness prevented Xerox from developing and selling a $2k computer with mouse and GUI before anyone else. Xerox had the money and technology that could have made them into the equivalent of what Microsoft plus IBM are today. Xerox management didn't have the vision.

Re:Is that really their job? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38470796)

It depends on who is paying the researchers, doesn't it? Xerox has no moral obligation to subsidize research that the government could just as easily subsidize.

Lingo (4, Interesting)

Dyinobal (1427207) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459230)

Is 'making money from it's inventions' code for suing people for patent infringement and patenting every dumb little thing possible. Or will they actually being doing something productive?

Re:Lingo (1)

mr1911 (1942298) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459900)

Is 'making money from it's inventions' code for suing people for patent infringement and patenting every dumb little thing possible. Or will they actually being doing something productive?

Protecting one's IP often results in suing others that infringe. If that is your major consideration, you probably won't like PARC's model, or just about any other business that seeks to innovate.

As for the rest of it, that depends on your definitions of "every dumb little thing possible" and "something productive". It seems like someone always thinks an invention is obvious after someone else has shown them how to do it.

Re:Lingo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38461278)

Ah, Slashdot, where endless anti-patent stories have made it so its readers think patents are some huge, dominant issue in the world. You need to start getting news elsewhere to balance out the link bait.

Monetize Monetizing (0)

cosm (1072588) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459254)

Dear CEOs of World,

Monetization is a synonym for death by a 1000 cuts, Being used as a way to placate shareholders, it means you have more serious issues going on than just a lack of monetization. Signed,
The World

What would an alternate universe be like... (4, Insightful)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459324)

.... where Xerox marketed the Xerox Alto as the first commercial GUI driven computer in 1973? I'm guessing technology would have advanced to todays levels by the early 90s, MIcrosoft most likely wouldn't exist as the IBM PC would never have been developed, at least not in its initial form, and even Apple would probably have faded away after managing to sell a few "old fashioned" Apple I & 2s in the mid 70s.

But - would the 8bit home computers have existed? If not then the huge 80s influx of hobbyists into programming would never have happened.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (2)

tepples (727027) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459432)

I imagine that without PARC, the GUI would have developed through a slightly different path involving taking concepts from video games and applying them to things other than games.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (2)

Dupple (1016592) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459438)

Commercial is the key word. The Alto would have been too expensive as it was. The price would have had to come down for a similar revolution/adoption rate to have happened.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459572)

Exactly. Software is one part of the puzzle, hardware being the other. The hardware to run a decent Gui wasn't cheap enough for mass production until the mid 80's or so. The Alto, if produced commercially would have been as successful as the Apple Lisa. But Maybe, we could have had a jump start on software for Gui's. And just maybe Xerox would have produced a follow up to the Alto that would have been cheaper, similar to what Apple did to produce the Mac.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#38463734)

I remember in the 70's that you'd see stories on television with people using high end graphical workstations (not the desktop metaphor though). For instance with automobile design they'd have a 3D model of a new car that they could rotate and view from different direction. So people knew about this stuff but they knew this was expensive and that you'd never just buy something like it from Radio Shack or even Heathkit.

The "computer for everyone" concept really didn't take off until the breakthrough app of the browser in the 90's. Before then there was no way a higher end computer was going to make a foothold in the mass market.

There's this tendency to think of computing as only the home and small office market. So people who only look at Macs and PCs think that the computing world was lagging whereas in reality there was all this awesome stuff happening elsewhere. There was a market for the GUI workstation only that market was not in the home, instead it was in the universities, research labs, and corporations. It was a market that was large enough to keep a lot of manufacturers busy making them. This period was not the dark ages even if the PC still ran DOS and the Mac couldn't multitask; instead the computing world was booming.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38466988)

The limiting factor was RAM. 64 kbits cost $10 in 1980. A 640x480 bit-mapped display 8 bits deep required $400 worth of RAM, a non-trivial fraction of the total system cost.

The Apple Lisa had that same problem (4, Interesting)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459670)

I remember like it was yesterday when I saw one demonstrated at a computer store. But because I was but a starving student, and the Lisa had a whole megabyte of memory and what for the day was quite a large, bright monochrome graphics display, I knew that I wouldn't have the ten grand to actually buy one any time soon.

The original Macintosh was a largely successful attempt to fix the problem of the Lisa's exhorbitant retail price. The "1984 Superbowl Ad" Macintosh just had 128 kb of RAM and a 512 by 342 monochrome display. The model I eventually bought used had just a single-sided 400 KB floppy and no hard drive.

It was not possible to develop real software on the original Macintosh. Instead developers used cross-compilers with Lisas as the host.

Re:The Apple Lisa had that same problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38463346)

Wait, you're telling me that software for a new computer platform was actually developed using the preceding computer platform? Next you'll be claiming that many early Windows programs were actually written from DOS terminals. Madness I say.

They could have tried a loss leader approach ... (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460114)

... in the same way as consoles. Sell the hardware for less than cost price and make up the difference on the software. People are more likely to spend money when they've already made an investment. Its getting them to part with money in the first place thats the hard part.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459492)

where Xerox marketed the Xerox Alto as the first commercial GUI driven computer in 1973? I'm guessing technology would have advanced to todays levels by the early 90s

Why? Today's (computer/IT) tech is largely driven by the ubiquitous PC and the availability of really cheap microprocessors. GUI's don't enable either. Nor will GUI's make mini- and micro- computers any cheaper, in fact they'll hog processing power (making them less attractive) and/or raise the price of their graphic terminals (ditto).

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459854)

"availability of really cheap microprocessors. GUI's don't enable either."

No , but they may have provided extra impetus. Back in the 70s and early 80s CPU speed increases year on year were pretty modest.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#38463866)

There was impetus. It just wasn't with the home user who had no need for a computer. The impetus was there with the workstation market where they did want faster CPUs and cheaper hardware, and there were great advances going on. People had awesome GUI based systems before Windows existed and they were in common use in universities and corporations. Sun Microsystems grew up and made its mark by making these things better and cheaper than the competition at a time when the home computer user naively thought a 286 was state of the art.

The PC & Mac world were small computing niches. Maybe they were behind the times but that doesn't mean the entire computer industry was ill. These ideas from PARC took root EARLY and grew and changed the industry, without any help from Gates or Jobs.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460116)

Better yet, what if Apple had come out with the i7 Macbook Pro in 1977 instead of that crummy Apple II? If they had priced it right, and thrown in 512 GB SSD drive and 8 GB RAM, I think they could have got a lot of traction in the marketplace. If only they hadn't been so clueless!

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460206)

Err, riiight. You do realise that the Alto and its GUI did exist in 1973 but was only used internally to Xerox and never made available to the general public don't you? Are you some apple fanboy who thinks the GUI arrived with the apple mac?

And the mouse was invented in the 1960s (1)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460400)

I don't recall who invented it but I think it was someone at Stanford rather than at Xerox PARC.

I expect that at the time they would have used it to drive glass TTYs. That's not as dumb as you think; one of the original Bell Labs UNIX developers created a purely textual mouse and keyboard driven GUI that was incredibly lightweight compared to today's graphics-heavy desktops.

Re:And the mouse was invented in the 1960s (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467024)

SRI. Douglas Englebart. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_mouse [wikipedia.org]

(The trackball was invented over 10 years earlier in a secret military project.)

The biggest shame to me is that that mouse was used *along* with the keyboard to do more sophisticated things. (Yeah, obviously we control-click, and shift-click and hold down modifiers to do different things than normal copy, but those are comparatively simplistic.)

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (2)

timeOday (582209) | more than 2 years ago | (#38461988)

OK, I exaggerated. But it's all too easy to imagine in retrospect that Park Xerox had this great futuristic computer that could have been marketed, but that is far from the truth. There was never a lack of ideas on how to use processing power at the time to make things nicer for the user, but affordable hardware wasn't good enough yet, and the Alto was not built on marketable hardware.

It was all about cost (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460682)

.... where Xerox marketed the Xerox Alto as the first commercial GUI driven computer in 1973?

As someone who visited PARC in 1975, and later spent some time programming an Alto, I can say that it wouldn't have been cost effective. PARC's plan, in the early 1970s, was to figure out what the future of computing would be like when the cost of hardware came down. The Alto was built without much regard to cost. The page-sized CRTs were hand-built at PARC itself, and the CPUs were made by Data General for Xerox. They were minicomputers, not microprocessors, basically Data General Novas with a different microcode. An Alto cost upwards of $20,000 to make.

Before PCs, there was a whole industry, led by Wang, in what were called "shared-logic word processors". These were a group of dumb terminals connected to a central unit with a CPU, disk, and printer. Places which did a lot of document revision, like law offices, bought such systems. Xerox came out with the Xerox Star, which was a cross between Alto technology and the dedicated word processor concept, and went into that market, at too high a price point. This was in the late 1970s. IBM introduced the IBM Displaywriter in 1980, with the same monitor that was later used with the IBM PC. Three displays, a printer, and a central control unit cost $26,000.

Getting costs down was a huge problem. The consensus in the industry was that the minimum useful personal computer would be a "3M" machine - one megabyte of memory, one MIPS of CPU power, and one megapixel of display. The Alto was there, but the early PCs, the Apple II, and the original Mac were well below those specs. The Lisa approached the 3M level but cost too much. (The original 64K Macintosh was a miserable flop commercially. Until the 512K Mac and the laser printer, with the specs approaching the "3M" level, did it make money.)

There was another line of development - UNIX workstations of the early 1980s. For about $20K, Apollo, Sun, Three Rivers, IBM and others sold UNIX machines with big screens and enough CPU and RAM power to get something done. They all suffered from appallingly bad GUIs. Then, as now, the UNIX crowd had no clue about user interfaces. For years, Sun workstations mostly had nothing but text windows open. (Plus an analog clock, the most widely used graphic program.) What passed for a GUI tended to be some scheme for front-ending command line programs with a menu system.

If the UNIX industry had had a clue about graphics, the industry might have gone that way when the hardware cost came down.

Re:It was all about cost (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460964)

Interestingly, Sony was a player in both the "shared-logic word processor" market, except I believe it was a more complex publishing solution than simple word processing, and also in the early UNIX workstations ("NEWS"). I wonder what the licensing was like :)

The Unix world didn't really get a clue about graphics until Motif, by which point they lost the potential advantage of being first.

Re:It was all about cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38464568)

Wasn't the basics of Ethernet invented at PARC, but then they let Bob Metcalfe take the tech to form 3Com?

Unix IS about the Command Line (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38460968)

The usefulness of Unix machines as servers in the datacenter is mostly derived from the command line, as it allows a skilled user to perform some kind of action much more quickly than by using a GUI.
Having said that, there is a different user population who is only low- or moderately skilled in computers and they need a GUI. But the Unix machines came from the "high end" or were servers, so the GUI was never that critical.
Finally, there is a very successuful Unix with a proper GUI, the MacOS X line of computers.

Re:It was all about cost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38462932)

Unix people are bad at ALL user interfaces except for of course the CLI.. even full screen text programs are and have always been complete shit. There are various reasons, curses, limited adoption of extended ascii, variable terminal sizes. But the number one reason is that unix nerds just hate all that shit. On the gui end I'll say that a few exceptions to the rule have came forward and brought a few gems well ahead of their time to unix. Who can tell me that windows 3.0 looked better than openlook or even fvwm?

But of course that attractive functional gui was going to be wrapped around a text window or some awful hand drawn/coded GUI full of athena widgets...lol.

Re:It was all about cost (1)

Jecel Assumpcao Jr (5602) | more than 2 years ago | (#38472742)

Some small corrections:

Data General Nova machines were popular at Xerox PARC before the Alto was developed, so one of the various instruction sets that the Alto supported was that of the Nova allowing old software to be easily ported to the new machine. Other than that, there was no relation between Xerox and Data General.

While the Alto and its successors (including the Star and specially the Dorado) were very expensive, there was the Notetaker project that would have had a huge impact if it had been released. Imagine a $3000 machine in 1979 like the future Compaq portable but with a mouse and GUI. Don't pay attention to what the Wikipedia or the Computer History Museum say about the machine, by the way, but look at the original documents instead:

http://bitsavers.org/pdf/xerox/notetaker/ [bitsavers.org]

The original plan was to create a Xerox microprocessor compatible with the Alto and use two 8086 for I/O. Imagine how cool that would have been! But the group was forbidden to do their own chips, though there was a division of PARC for doing just that. So the design was changed to three 8086s instead. And as neat as this was, there were plans for a cost reduced Notetaker 2. An executive flew from the east coast specially to kill the project and make sure it really died because the board had decided to keep Xerox outside of the silly microcomputer business. They changed their minds a little later and gave us a Z80 CP/M machine after IBM came out with their PC.

The only good thing about this was that the Notetaker's designer, Douglas Fairbairn, was so upset over the cancellation that he left PARC and founded VLSI Technology Inc. (VTI) which made possible for small companies to design their own chips. Like Acorn and their ARM.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#38463144)

You're leaving out the biggest part of the equation -- cost. In 1973 a Cray Mark II, the world's fastest computer, was less powerful than today's iPhone. Today's PC software wouldn't have run on even a mainframe back then. In 1971 or 1972 (I don't remember) I was completely inside a computer that was designed to run a C-5A flight simulator. The computer was an entire building full of rows and rows of bookshelves filled with printed circuit boards. The cockpit view wasn't even computer-generated, it used 35mm film for the window display. You young folks have no idea how primitive things were back then.

Eight bit processors were developed because 1) 16 bits cost a whole lot more and 2) eight bits is enough for a lot of devices and functions. You don't pay for a semitractor when all you need is a small pickup truck.

The GUI only came around when hardware was powerful enough to run it and cheap enough to buy. Notice it was the middle to late '90s before most people started putting computers in their homes; cost was the factor. An new IBM PC was $4,000 in 1982 and didn't even come with disk drives!

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467416)

8 bit (monolithic) processors were developed as an improvement on 4 bit processors. At the time that 8 bit processors were new, a single chip 16 bit CPU would have been nearly impossible (due to, among other things, low yield).

In those days, ICs were still laid out by hand, using sticky colored plastic on a clear, dimensionally stable plastic background. Those were the days when a company would occasionally "lose" a process: be unable to produce a chip, or a whole family of chips, because something mysterious went wrong in the factory.

The CPU that in 1975 would have represented man-years of development can be today taken from idea to a design ready to be sent to a foundry in a day. If you're in a hurry, you can make it that day with a programmable device. Progress, indeed.

Re:What would an alternate universe be like... (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 2 years ago | (#38463398)

The Alto was too expensive and too application specific. Xerox wasn't a workstation maker, having it change company direction to promote this would be as silly as HP deciding they were really a printer and PC company. They did push their workstation lines though, in as much as they were intended for desktop publishing (part of Xerox core business). 1973 was too early for this and the workstations were seriously expensive and the market was small. A decade later other companies made the workstations better and cheaper.

Sun did GUIs earlier than PCs (1982) and did them better, and was successful at it. The problem again was that the micro computer did not have this stuff and market for a GUI workstation was small and restricted to high end professional uses. You'd never have gotten this sort of stuff on a home or small office computer in the early days when that market was all about cheap solutions or batch processing. Can you imagine something like this in the era of Hercules graphics cards? Consider how expensive the Mac was and that was with a really stripped down design.

How much do the researchers get? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38459514)

So, if you are a salary researcher there, do you get millions of dollars if your invention is the next big thing?

You can either have researchers doing it for fun and the advancement of the technology, or incentivize them to win some monetary award if they do something. But paying a set salary for 30 years of work isn't the right way to do it anymore.

An attractively framed patent engraving. (1)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460426)

My manager at Apple had two such plaques on the wall of his office at Apple. The first page of each of his two patents were attractively engraved in bronze then mounted on I think walnut.

I expect he got some manner of bonus, but it was Apple who got the royalties on his contributions towards wireless network encryption.

I'll be damned if I ever sign away the rights to any of my inventions ever again. I've made a whole bunch of merely well-off people spectacularly wealthy, but all I've ever gotten is shafted. That's why I'm self-employed despite the incredible difficulty of it.

A friend worked for Xerox in 1984 (4, Interesting)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459604)

Not at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto, but in Pasadena. He was a fellow Caltech student.

They had a color photocopier under development that printed on paper the size of an unfolded newspaper.

Now of course he wasn't supposed to, but just for grins he photocopied one side of a twenty dollar bill. He showed me both the original and the photocopy. I was completely unable to tell the difference between the two.

Now this was in 1984. How many of you are old enough to recall what photocopiers were like in 1984? I don't think color copiers even existed outside the laboratory.

Xerox could be bigger and richer than Microsoft, Intel and Apple all put together if they had ever gotten products like that into the market.

When was Xerox PARC founded? In the 1960s? And only just now they're thinking they should make a profit with it?

Apple's ATG - Advanced Technology Group - was well-known for just the same kind of nonsense. They were always showing off incredible new products at developer conferences, such as tablet computers with handwriting recognition, but they were reknowned for never actually bringing any of those companies to market.

Contrast this with Bell Labs that among many other valuable, money-making products, invented the Transistor.

Re:A friend worked for Xerox in 1984 (3, Insightful)

Idbar (1034346) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460132)

I love all those stories. But the problem is if the machine has actually prohibitively to build. I've seen many interesting research projects but if they had no market for it because nobody will pay the 2 million dollars the printer costs (without even considering the ink) then it won't make it to the public. I'm sure though they used their results for further research to make them more affordable.

The most recent case I remember the most... is the Color E-ink screen, I saw perfectly good/working prototypes in 2005 for digital frames. But for some reason we're flooded with low-res LCDs Frames, with useless features like MP3 players.

Who knows what the reasons are not to put stuff in the market.

Re:A friend worked for Xerox in 1984 (1)

Krishnoid (984597) | more than 2 years ago | (#38465470)

  • photocopied one side of a twenty dollar bill. He showed me both the original and the photocopy. I was completely unable to tell the difference between the two.

  • pay the 2 million dollars the printer costs

  • profit!

Re:A friend worked for Xerox in 1984 (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460912)

IIRC it's only illegal to make a same-size reproduction of a bill if it's double-sided. If you make a double-sided reproduction it has to be significantly smaller or larger.

Re:A friend worked for Xerox in 1984 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38460976)

The thing was that under the Consent agreements that Bell had signed, they pretty much had to license the tech they developed on the cheap. But I lament what happened to Bell Labs. They were the guys who gave us the transistor, perfected the laser, the maser, found the cosmic background radiation among a host of other discoveries they ran into while trying to improve telephone service.

They also had Western Electric - the manufacturing and distribution arm. There was close collaboration between the two entities. But over time their advancements of the art is what really killed the Bell System. Sure, they had a monopoly but the technology that they put in place was killing the model of long distance subsidizing local services. It got to the point with the 4ESS toll switch where what they charge was several orders of magnitude more than what it actually cost to complete the call. And close followers of Mother Bell realized this and made very loud noises about it.

I know! I know! (1)

DragonHawk (21256) | more than 2 years ago | (#38466442)

... he photocopied one side of a twenty dollar bill. He showed me both the original and the photocopy. I was completely unable to tell the difference between the two.

The original was the one with printing on both sides.

(I'll get my coat.)

Research for its own sake is disappearing... (5, Insightful)

splodus (655932) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459650)

The funding councils that back research at UK universities now require an 'impact' plan; evidence that what is being funded will have a 'positive' impact in terms of society and commercial interest. This was brought in by the previous government, and backed by the current one. At the time most researchers were set against it, pointing out that so many of the inventions and discoveries that have been so beneficial to us all came not from a will to research a specific issue, but from something else, and hence little more than an accident.

I thinks it's troubling that the idea of research for its own sake seems to be dying. In effect we're limiting the overall breadth of investigation, and perhaps that will result in fewer 'useful' discoveries after all.

Re:Research for its own sake is disappearing... (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | more than 2 years ago | (#38459996)

I was thinking the same, I think what made PARC, Bell Labs, etc. successful is they had smart people acting like "alchemists." Now embracing a good idea and putting it to the market is wise for a company, however, if you first have to show positive impact of revenue stream then that will create a "glass ceiling." It seems new concepts come about because someone had a passion to make something, and it would be nice to make a few bucks in the meantime. But if intent is to make lotsa money, then that passion ("I gotta make this idea into actual thing or I will die") is squelched (the glass ceiling).

Richard Elkus said all our research places have gone away, they are now applied technology centers,
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfqKZlMfnX4 [youtube.com]

Intent vs. Goofing around. (1)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460342)

Every scientist, tinker, chemist, and engineer who "accidently" found something great had an expressed purpose (at least in their own minds) and intention to the experiments/research they were conducting.

For example http://science.discovery.com/brink/top-ten/accidental-inventions/inventions-03.html [discovery.com]
" 18-year-old chemist William Perkin wanted to cure malaria; instead his scientific endeavors changed the face of fashion forever and, oh yeah, helped fight cancer. "

While working over Easter break in his home lab on his malaria cure he made his discovery "that aniline could be partly transformed into a crude mixture which when extracted with alcohol produced a substance with an intense purple colour".

Or maybe you prefer the guy who left the lab a mess when he went on vacation.
http://science.discovery.com/brink/top-ten/accidental-inventions/inventions-01.html [discovery.com]

I Once Invented A Lossless Image Compressor (1)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460524)

It was the result of a long commute.

The compressors we were using made the image files small enough but the decompressors were pathetically slow on the 20 MHz CPUs of the day.

One reason for that is that most compressors are designed to eliminate the redundancies resulting from frequently repeated sequential patterns. Zip, GZip, LZW and so are on great for compressing natural language text, but it's a totally dumbfuck idea to compress two-dimensional graphics with them. I was totally appalled when I learned that PNG used Zip compression.

My whole invention was the result of nothing more than whiling away a long drive home while contemplating what about a picture is the really essential part of making it a picture and not something else.

I'm sorry but I don't have space in the margin of this book to actually explain it. But I do intend to write it up sometime soon rather than leaving it to future generations to figure out. :-)

Sometime after this I asked around for a good tool for losslessly compressing audio files. Everyone responded with clueless answers like "Why don't you just used Zip?" The reason that Zip is a poor audio compressor is that the compression algorithm does not in any way take into account what it is about digitized audio that makes it digitized audio and not something else.

Now we have FLAC and the Apple Lossless Encoder.

A really good way to do purely theoretical research is to have a really long and really boring commute to and from work.

Re:Intent vs. Goofing around. (2)

splodus (655932) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460882)

I don't doubt that those who are granted funding at UK universities, having satisfied the 'impact' criteria, will often invent or discover things equally useful but totally unexpected.

What troubles me is that by making every research project comply with the impact criteria, other avenues of inquiry are cut off. At the moment, a proposal to find out (for the sake of argument - I've no idea if it's a good question) why dandelions are yellow would not get funded, but a proposal to boost the yield of rape seed might.

To me it's along the lines of saying that researchers from certain geographical locations, or birthplaces, or with project names beginning with P, will not get funded. It's an arbitrary and misguided hurdle that threatens to kill projects that might otherwise deliver top quality research. No obvious application at the time funding is granted, but subsequently leading to benefits for many.

I mean, there's already lots and lots of commercially focused research, it's not like we're short of people trying to make money...

Re:Intent vs. Goofing around. (1)

Lashat (1041424) | more than 2 years ago | (#38461488)

We certainly agree that strict compliance is not helpful in exploratory research and subsequent discovery. I hope the expectation is NOT to strictly control experimentation, holding it to the "letter of the funding grant", but to at least establish a target goal or outcome to aim for.

I am by no means an expert on funding research grants. This next question I'm asking because I don't know the answer. Is there an entity (university, company, government dept, individual, or other group) that simply funds open-ended, non-specific research projects without an expectation of financial return? (Outside of the medical field, where curing cancer or an allowing an leg amputee to walk again can be a reward in itself.)

Re:Intent vs. Goofing around. (1)

splodus (655932) | more than 2 years ago | (#38463750)

That's a good question. In the UK it used to be the case that the main funding councils (known collectively as RCUK) would fund any original research based on its contribution to the field. Under the 'Pathways to Impact' criteria all RCUK and most of the other councils require a submission with all applications stating to whom the research might be useful and how they will benefit. In theory there does not need to be an economic benefit provided there is some societal benefit (for example digitising and annotating an original manuscript for distribution via the web). However with science and engineering, commercialisation seems to rate very highly in deciding who gets funded and who doesn't.

There are a few funding councils not part of RCUK that currently do not seem to require impact plans. One is the British Academy, which will fund researchers at any higher or further education establishment in the UK in the same way that they all used to. The trend though does seem to be away from esoteric research and towards more 'results oriented' projects, with data management plans, project management, risk assessment, stakeholder analysis and so on becoming de rigueur even with charity-funded calls.

I don't know about other countries though, it could be that they are looking at us with bafflement wondering how on earth we think we can predict the unexpected outcomes we want before they've happened...

Huh? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38459716)

Wouldn't that be Douglas Engelbart? [wikipedia.org] You know, the Mother of all Demos? [youtube.com] You know, when Steve Jobs was 13?

Re:Huh? (1)

burning-toast (925667) | more than 2 years ago | (#38462234)

These are some pretty interesting nostalgic videos! Thanks for the links. You should have logged in to post though so you aren't stuck in 0 point A/C hell. I'm not that far up on my history, but the videos proved interesting none-the-less.

- Toast

Get the facts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38459738)

PARC did not invent the mouse. This was done at Stanford And commercialized by SRI. Xerox also did not invent the GUI as one existed in 1964 when the mouse was created.

Stupid Proposition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38460004)

The idea of an "incumbent" company "transforming" itself into a business concerned with a wholly different technology/product set is hilarious, if we just look at historic evidence.
I would argue that every company has a certain purpose, and if that purpose is going away, the company must go away. There are very small chances a company can transform itself into a new purpose. For example, Krupp was a major maker of steel and machinery such as locomotives. They still are. But they never managed to make some of the most profitable steely machines, namely automobiles, despite having lots of industrial experience and (I assume) lots of capital when Daimler and Benz experimented with internal combustion engines. The same is with IBM - they have a long history of corporate/government data processing and that is where they are still very strong, but they have little clue about personal computing (which MS, Intel, Compaq did for them), search engines or mobile phones.
The same could be said about Exxon, Nestle, Xerox, Daimler, Siemens and other large and old mega-corporations.
And, don't believe their manager's talk about "fostering innovation" and "nurturing creativity" - the reality is that corporations are more often than not befallen by the worst group-think you can imagine. They can only think in the way they have been doing business since they grew big, and that does definitely not help to develop radically new products and business models.
I guess the maximum they can achieve is to venture into a closely related sector, such as HP moving from high-end electronic measurement devices into all sorts of computer hardware and operating systems. I worked at HP and they never had the mindset to transform themselves into a real software company, despite them trying hard.
Xerox will be a copier/printer company as long as paper is being used in business and after that they will be dead as George Washington is now. Let's don't be pathetic and pretend it could be different.

The Peculiar thing about the Pecuniary (1)

neurosine (549673) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460112)

When an organization is focused on providing a corridor to augment human technology it is a service to humanity in the sense that often great and profound things come from these services. As soon as it focuses on making money, and generating revenue, the deeper mission statement is lost, and it becomes just another business concerned about the lowest common denominator to minimize overhead and maximize profit. This is what sucks most of what could be great and interesting about us, and contributes to our deterioration. You have to ignore a great deal of actuality when you buy into smaller realities, like monetary systems.

Corporate basic research should be supported (2)

ErichTheRed (39327) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460416)

Forget all the patent and IP insanity that goes on in the modern world for a minute, and think about what it means for a company to do its own basic research. Companies did R&D because they knew products come and go, and that they would profit handsomely if something their researchers discovered was key to a profitable product. I think that philosophy comes from a time when companies were run for the long term rather than a few quarters into the future. Today, only the big boys can really support their own R&D divisions, such as IBM, Microsoft and GE. HP and Xerox used to have big R&D facilities, and Bell Labs was the biggest of the big, but now the demand to keep shareholders happy outstrips the need to keep the idea pipeline stocked. Today's corporate research is backed by huge piles of money, just as it used to be, simply because you're investing in something that is very capital intensive and doesn't involve a guaranteed payout. Anyone who's taken Corporate Finance 101 knows about the cost-benefit analysis and "which project should we fund given 20 altenatives" exercises the MBAs go through. Add angry shareholders to the mix, most of whom don't care about the company's longevity, and it's no wonder research doesn't get the funds it used to.

One advantage that corporate labs have over university or government labs is their science/engineering focus. It may be basic research, but the reality is that it's mostly in the company's field and ties in neatly with the current or future product lines. I'll use Bell Labs as an example...AT&T used their telephone monopoly, which generated vast sums of money, to fund basic research. That led them to invent the transistor, which (surprise, surprise) was very useful in early telephone switching equipment, and in modern electronics in general. Digital switching dropped the cost of providing phone service, and enabled new technologies that just couldn't exist in the old analog-switched network. Other inventions such as the UNIX operating system and others had wide-ranging implications for technology in general, but at their core they were used to improve the company's products and services.

I think that corporate research is probably going to end up relegated to privately-held firms who make boatloads of predictable income every year, and can afford to fund it. The current stock market just doesn't allow for this to go on...wild gyrations every single day, plus the fact that people and institutions trade in and out of stocks every second, not every 10 years like they used to. That's the thing that's different -- money is still available, but no one wants to plow it into something that doesn't give an immediate payout.

Real Innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38460470)

..takes place in little startups. Think of early HP, Google, Apple, MS, Intel, Adobe. The large corporates aren't really creators of new things. All they do is optimizing their existing portfolio and closely related fields.

What could we do to change this? (2)

MichaelCrawford (610140) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460676)

An idea I've had for a long time is that corporate executives shouldn't be paid based on the quarterly stock price, as is so often the case, but the stock price five years from now.

One way to do that would be to still pay them with options, but they would be contractually forbidden to sell the stock until five years after each vesting.

If they had exercised their options in the meantime, they would still get dividends. That's the way it should be - companies should drive investment by actually earning profits, not through market manipulations that drive up short-term stock prices.

I once worked for a privately-held hedge fund that had a software package that I referred to as "A License To Print Money". While not perfectly accurate, it did a pretty good job of predicting the commodities futures market.

There were just two dozen employees of that company which invested just one very wealthy guy's cash, but even so they traded in ONE THOUDAND different commodities. They got real-time quotes via a high-speed point-to-point wireless link to an ISP in a nearby city, which I imagine was tied into the Internet via either satellite or optical fiber.

That's not what the commodities futures markets are for! That kind of "investment" is not investment at all. It's Just Wrong.

The commodities futures markets were created to provide financing for farmers to grow their crops, for livestock herders to feed their cattle and so on. When one bought a contract for pork bellies, for example, when a pig farmer's pigs were eventually slaughtered, one's meat-packing plant would receive a bunch of refrigerated boxcars full of pork.

The guy I worked for "invested" in pork bellies as well, but to prevent a bunch of pig carcasses from ever showing up on his doorstep, one of my tasks was for my code to perform what is called a "roll", in which it would keep track of the delivery date of the contract, then sell it back on the Chicago market.

I don't know what can be done about the stock market, but perhaps one way to control the wild gyrations in the commodities market would be to forbid participation by parties who have no actual use for the physical commodities.

Re:Corporate basic research should be supported (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 2 years ago | (#38467642)

The first transistor was invented about 1925 by Lilienfeld. Ironically, it was a field effect transistor, the type that gets most use in digital devices today. Point contact transistors were developed at Bell Labs in the 1940s, and bipolar transistors at Bell Labs in 1950.

Stupid Execs (2)

HideyoshiJP (1392619) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460422)

You don't have to monetize everything, you know. It is possible to use one unprofitable department to improve revenues of others. Have a spine and stop worrying about next quarter more than next year.

Xerox Sigma machines (1)

NikeHerc (694644) | more than 2 years ago | (#38460432)

I haven't forgiven Xerox their sin of withdrawing from the mainframe business in July, 1975. They abandoned the Sigma series of machines and some of the coolest system software that ever existed. They will always be losers.

here's PARc's view on all these comments: (1)

PARCinc (2537542) | more than 2 years ago | (#38464946)

Hi all, This is a great comment thread -- really! A few clarifications:

        PARC was not sold off but is an independent subsidiary (incorporated in 2002). This means we work with multiple other clients -- from Fortune 500 companies (including Xerox) to startups to government agencies -- practicing an open innovation model where we provide custom R&D services, technology, expertise, IP, and more.

        Our clients commercialize our technology for their markets -- we have never directly commercialized our own tech. But because we work closely with them, and have our own business development embedded inside the company, we get to bring that commercial knowledge in not to mention carry it across different domains (but protected for different "fields of use" for different clients/applications).

        Indeed, one huge advantage corporate R&D has over university and government labs is its industry focus. So you know how to turn visions into realities because you know how to work within industry constraints to find solutions. But we also get to use government funding to help jump start the really early stage stuff.

        And yes, we are very different from a patent troll! We're also not just contract research. We invest in our own research and development, and we create IP strategically (measured not just by patent number but in portfolio coverage and reduction to practice), and our clients who co-develop with us leverage that IP to reduce their own risk (say, from doing it alone internally) and accelerate their time to market. These aren't just buzzwords: this is make-or-break for a lot of companies!

        Not sure there has ever been "pure" research for research's sake... Even since its inception, Xerox PARC had the founding charter to invent the "office of the future" (which it did). And today it's multiple futures: networking of the future (see for example www.parc.com/ccn), cleantech of the future, novel electronics of the future, and so on. But the secret sauce (diverse disciplines, industry focus, etc.) is the same.

If you're interested in learning more on how we resolve the seeming paradox of "business"... "breakthrough" (our tagline today is The Business of Breakthroughs), do check out some of our posts at http://blogs.parc.com/blog/topics/business-of-innovation/ [parc.com] -- we'd love your comments!

~PARC Online
@parcinc

Re:here's PARc's view on all these comments: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38488838)

Funny that the PARC comment on the PARC story doesn't get rated up. I wonder if PARC RTFA.

Resquiescat in Pace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38465620)

Research Inhumed by Profit

Great But Expensive H/W, Lousy S/W (1)

Bob Munck (238707) | more than 2 years ago | (#38468000)

I was involved in a project to make PARC products -- the Alto, Ethernet, and laser printer -- into a commercial product in the mid-to-late 70's, at Xerox in El Segundo. The hardware was amazing; I remember the thrill when they wheeled my Alto into my office, pushed aside a ceiling tile, and connected it to a big black cable called the Ethernet. It was quite obviously a minicomputer, not a microprocessor-based personal computer, similar to Digital's PDP-8 and the DG Nova-2 (as Animats said above). I'd used a mouse years before at Englebart's, so it was great to see a manufactured version, but disappointing that it lacked Doug's chord keyboard and three mouse keys for typing ASCII in binary. We knew nothing about the costs of the hardware; we were concerned with the software.

And the software stank. All of the pretty demos running on the Alto were coded at the grad-student level, utterly unusable for a commercial product. For example, the MESA compiler, for the language in which some of the software was written, had been tested only to the extend that it would compile itself. (Most of the Alto s/w was coded in BCPL. Fun facts: the predecessor of C was B; its successor should have been P and the one after that L.) The OIS project to commercialize the Alto blew up to a few hundred people and just as quickly blew away on an early Santa Ana.

I would suggest that Xerox as a company and PARC as a specific part of it failed because they were unable to write commercial-level software.

No Corporate Knowledge of SW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38469578)

Your are stating what I was trying to point out above - companies cannot easily transform themselves into providers of radically different products/services. The corporate knowledge of Xerox was centered around copying and manufacturing/servicing/supporting that technology. Their managers had no clue of software development and they were not really willing to acquire that skillset. After all, the paper business was doing well...

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