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Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 3. März 1999

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Throughout the '70s and '80s, Xerox Corporation provided unlimited funding to a renegade think tank called the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Occupying a ramshackle building adjacent to Stanford University, PARC's occupants would prove to be the greatest gathering of computer talent ever assembled: it conceptualized the very notion of the desktop computer, long before IBM launched its PC, and it laid the foundation for Microsoft Windows with a prototype graphical user interface of icons and layered screens. Even the technology that makes it possible for these words to appear on the screen can trace its roots to Xerox's eccentric band of innovators. But despite PARC's many industry-altering breakthroughs, Xerox failed ever to grasp the financial potential of such achievements. And while Xerox's inability to capitalize upon some of the world's most important technological advancements makes for an interesting enough story, Los Angeles Times correspondent Michael Hiltzik focuses instead on the inventions and the inventors themselves. We meet fiery ringleader Bob Taylor, a preacher's son from Texas known as much for his ego as for his uncanny leadership; we trace the term "personal computer" back to Alan Kay, a visionary who dreamed of a machine small enough to tuck under the arm; and we learn how PARC's farsighted principles led to collaborative brilliance. Hiltzik's consummate account of this burgeoning era won't improve Xerox's stake in the computer industry by much, but it should at least give credit where credit is due. Recommended. --Rob McDonald

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"Read this book. A treat for anyone with even a passing interest in the origins of today's siliconized culture."--"Business Week -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Taschenbuch.

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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I read this book because it was mentioned in The New New Thing - a book about Jim Clark. What I found was a very well written story of PARC (Xerox's research centre in Palo Alto).
The story is really set in the 1970s and 1980s when Xerox set up PARC really to support a newly acquired computer company SDS. What happened instead was that PARC itself outshone the acquired company and for a corporation that built up its name in the photocopier business, it caused many problems.
Hiltzik is a master at capturing the mood and feel. He brings a multitude of characters to life in bite sized chapers. (The book has almost 450 pages but the chapters are about 8-12 pages long making it easy to pick up and immerse yourself in a piece of history.)
What I found astounding was the level of technology reached in PARC. This is well documented in this book. You have Douglas Englebart who used research and ideas raised in the 1940s as a blueprint for interactive hardware and software aimed at manipulating text and video images (he was the "inventor" of the mouse). You have explanations of the floating point function (which caused Intel so many problemns with its Pentium chip). You have descriptions of culture shaping events such as Bob Taylor's "Beat the Dealer" where his people would spend an hour or so explaining their research and then were let loose to the erudite audience "like a rank steak to a pack of hungry wolves." You even have the origins of Ethernet and TCP/IP documented here.
This is a very detailed book but unlike say "competing on Internet Time" it is much more like a story with real characters and real-life issues. It reads as well as a Southwick book but with much more to say.
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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
As always your mileage may vary. My mileage was low.
I ended Michael Hiltzik's book on Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center and the invention of the computer technologies we use today disappointed. Hiltzik spent too little time on the ideas and technologies, and too much time on the personalities and the intra-Xerox bureaucratic infighting. That might have been OK if his discussions of just why Xerox never brought so much PARC research to market were accurate, or coherent. But it seems to me that his discussions of Xerox bureaucracy and PARC personalities deconstruct themselves: the evidence he presents simply doesn't justify the conclusions that he reaches.
For example, as his book heads for a conclusion--at the top of page 391--he attacks the idea that by failing to develop into products even a quarter of the technologies produced by PARC Xerox "fumbled the future." He says that "technology foils its tamers" and that conclusions that Xerox failed "rest... on several very questionable assumptions."
But the story that Hiltzik tells is not one in which Xerox makes defensible but wrong decisions, but one in which Xerox does not even try to market what became the key technologies of Apple, Adobe, 3Com, Microsoft and others--and markets the PARC-invented laser printer only after great internal corporate resistance, and only after unnecessary multi-year delays. To squander a five- to ten-year lead because your internal bureaucratic processes cannot recognize an opportunity is, indeed, to "fumble the future."
Along his way Hiltzik makes what seem to me to be simple mistakes of fact and grave errors of logic that cast doubt on his overall reliability.
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Hiltzik has done a wonderful service in trying to piece together and explain what took place at Xerox PARC. It is very difficult to accurately reconstruct history but there is much that we learn from it if it has been reconstructed appropriately. This book is full of real-life lessons. The undertones of "Dealers of Lightning" speak of the value of research and of the limitations companies so often run into. From the successes and failures of Xerox, we can see how much more businesses have to gain by breaking through bureaucracy, improving communication, striving to understand one another, following well developed visions, breaking through political lines, and the potential of open research. It is so easy to see the potential that Xerox PARC had unearthed, from hindsight, and be critical toward Xerox's lack of exploiting it.
Hopefully, from reading this book, we will be more conscious of what may be lying dormant in our own companies. It is very comforting that Xerox PARC paid for itself and brought a handsome return through the few technologies that were exploited. This should be an encouragement to us all in supporting good research. We could use more PARC's to improve our lives through visionary research. It is a credit to Hiltzik that he tempered his criticism in "Did Xerox Blow It?" and recognized the difficulty of bringing new technologies to market.
Though I rate this book very highly and have recommend it to others to read, I found at times that it was difficult to keep up with the number of characters that were introduced, especially during the early beginnings at PARC. I also found the flow disrupted with unnecessary details from time to time.
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