Apple, Xerox and the one button mouse
Apple has never been slow to innovate - except, perhaps, where product names are concerned. We're approaching the eighties in our trip through the company's history and we're at the point where it's followed up the Apple I and II with the III. Predictable, eh?
The two Steves founded the company with a trend-bucking debut and had the gumption to target the industry's biggest names with its two follow ups. That must have left industry watchers wondering where it might go next.
The answer, it turned out, was Palo Alto.
Xerox had established a research centre there - Xerox PARC, now simply called 'parc' - where it was free to explore new technologies a long way from the corporate base on the opposite side of the country. It's work helped drive forward the tech that we still use every day, such as optical media, Ethernet and laser printers. Of most interest to Mac users, though, is its revolutionary work on interface design.
The Apple I, II and III computers were text-based machines, much like the earliest IBM PCs. But Jobs, who was working on the Lisa at the time, wanted something more intuitive. He convinced Xerox to grant three days' access to PARC for him and a number of Apple employees. In exchange Xerox won the right to buy 100,000 Apple shares at $10 each.
To say this was a bargain would be a massive understatement. Apple has split its stock four times since then - in 1987, 2000, 2005 and 2014. Companies do this when the price of a single share starts to get too high, in an effort to stimulate further trading. So, assuming Xerox held on to those shares, it would have had 200,000 by 1987, 400,000 by 2000 and 800,000 by 2005. The split in 2014 was rated at seven to one, so Xerox's holding would leap from 800,000 to 5.6m. Selling them at today's prices would rake in $708m (£450m). Not bad for a three day tour.
Jobs was bowled over by the Xerox Alto, a machine used widely throughout the park, with a portrait display and graphical interface, which was way ahead of its time. It had been knocking around for a while by then, but Xerox, which built 2000 units, hadn't been selling it to the public. It wasn't small - about the size of an under-counter fridge - but it was still considered a 'personal' machine, which was driven home by the user-centric manner in which it was used. It was the first computer to major on mouse use, with a three-button gadget used to point at and click on objects on the screen.
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