The Story of Steve Jobs and Xerox

Differences and stories between Steve Jobs and Xerox. Some claim that Steve Jobs stole his mice and personal computer ideas directly from Xerox, while others say Jobs was the sole inventor of these inventions.

The Story of Steve Jobs and Xerox

The first and primary goal of those working on innovation is to develop the existing one and bring out the next big breakthrough. This is the essence of innovation. Often innovation is about improving what has already been found rather than finding something brand new. However, these improvement efforts can sometimes be regarded as disrespect for the owner of the original invention or even outright theft. The relationship between Steve Jobs and Xerox is also a controversial issue about the limits of innovation. Some claim that Steve Jobs stole his mice and personal computer ideas directly from Xerox, while others say Jobs was the sole inventor of these inventions. Of course, neither of these views reflect the exact truth. In this article, we'll go over the story of Steve Jobs and Xerox, and we'll touch on how real innovation happens.


Malcom Gladwell recently published an article in The New Yorker magazine, telling the story of Xerox's famous inventions personal computers and computer mice. According to Gladwell's article, it all started in 1979 with a deal between Xerox and Jobs, who was only 24 years old at the time.

At that time, Apple was already one of the most sought-after companies in the US. In these years, as all the companies in Silicon Valley were seeking to buy a stake in Apple, Steve Jobs offered Xerox an offer he could not refuse. Jobs offered Xerox to sell 100,000 of the company's shares for a million dollars. This offer, which was made shortly before Apple's IPO and therefore its shares skyrocket, was highly profitable for Xerox. In return, PARC, a Xerox firm, would be allowed to take a closer look at their latest work.

The Apple CEO's proposal was accepted after prolonged debates over what Steve Jobs had access to and what he would not have, and protests by many Xerox executives who thought the deal was nonsense. Jobs, on which several promotional tours were organized for him, at the end of the day turned his full attention to Xerox Alto, PARC's first personal computer.

An engineer named Larry Tesler, who was presenting the new model, started by moving the mouse on the screen and opening and closing the windows. This movement, which is a fairly standard computer use habit today, was an unprecedented technology for 1979. As a matter of fact, this first computer mouse that could manage the computer without having to type commands via the keyboard was enough to impress Jobs. Tesler then wrote in a document program and mailed with other PARC employees using the world's first Ethernet network. Apple engineer Bill Atkinson, who joined the tour with Jobs, was so impressed by this innovation that he is said to approach the computer until his nose touches the screen to better see what is happening.

Although almost as excited as Atkinson, Jobs had other things on his mind. According to Tesler, Jobs thought constantly pacing the room and finally shouted, “How can you do so little with something like this? This is the best I've seen, this is a revolutionary invention! ”

The Xerox Alto was launched in 1981 but did not meet the expected demand due to its slow and underpowered computer. Xerox also completely withdrew from the personal computer market within a few years. Meanwhile, Apple was looking to build the next generation of personal computers. Jobs was struggling to have his engineers implement the ideas he saw at Xerox. Jobs expressed his belief in the future of these innovations in an interview years later: "If those at Xerox were aware of what they found and were able to use it to their advantage, today Xerox would be even greater than IBM and Microsoft combined."

After his visit to Xerox, the first person Jobs spoke to was Dean Hovey, who would later establish IDEO. Hovey, who wanted to tell Jobs a few of his ideas that day, summed up his speech as follows: “Only two words came out of my mouth that silenced me. He just said I had to make a mouse. I had no idea what the mouse he was talking about. "

The instructions given to Howey by Steve Jobs on that day literally reveal what real innovation means. According to Dean Hovey, Jobs said exactly the following: “Xerox's mouse costs $ 300 and looks like it will break down in two weeks. Our design framework is this: The mouse we are going to build should cost less than $ 15, it should be able to work at least for a few years without deterioration, and most importantly, it should be able to work on the surface of the pants on my knee. " After this meeting, Hovey went to a grocery store, bought all the deodorants he could find, and by removing the balls inside, he laid the foundations for the first mass mouse design that will be used by all mouse manufacturers for decades.


Although Xerox's versions of the story accuse Jobs of stealing, there are serious differences between the products Apple developed and the Xerox prototype. First of all, there is an important difference regarding the number of buttons on the mouse and their functions. Apple's design only had one button, while the PARC mouse had 3 buttons. Both Jobs and Hovey attached great importance to this feature, which makes it easier for the user to adapt and learn about the product.

It would also not be correct to say that the idea of ​​a computer mouse was first introduced by Xerox. This concept was originally conceived by Douglas Engelbart, a Stanford research associate. In the mid-1960s, Engelbart discovered that using a computer by moving a tool on the screen would be much more practical than writing commands, and designed a very large and rectangular "mechanical animal" that moved on wheels. PARC engineers also took his work as the basis for their projects. In other words, the mouse, which emerged as a result of a development process in which every actor participating in the story added something new to the project, was not actually Xerox's invention. The product developed by Xerox inspired by Engelbart and by Jobs by Xerox; It is the result of a clever innovation, not a profitable stealing of ideas. Because if you put these three mice side by side and look at them, it will become more clearly visible how innovation and development take place in the field of technology.

Another claim by those who accuse Steve Jobs of theft is that Apple copied Xerox's interface. However, there are fundamental differences between the interface developed by PARC and that of Apple. The interface used in Xerox Alto did not require writing commands, but when you click an icon on the screen, it offers you different command options. Apple removed this tool from the menu while developing its own system. The interface created by Jobs' engineers allowed the user to direct the computer with mouse movements. They also developed the familiar mouse movements, such as dragging a window, holding it by its corner.

Developing a system that works with a single button instead of three, costs 15 dollars instead of 300 dollars and allows the user to directly intervene in the computer instead of intermediary menus is one of the biggest innovations in computer technologies in the twentieth century. One of the most important factors that make this possible is the difference in the target audience of the companies that produce the product. Xerox designed the mouse for industry professionals rather than the casual user. But what makes the computer mouse an innovative invention is the perspective that Steve Jobs added to the work, seeing the potential outside of the limited space in which the system is used. This is one of the examples that best summarizes the nature of innovation.