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End of an era: Xerox PARC founder dies

Physicist and Xerox chief scientist Jacob Goldman, the man who founded the company's legendary Palo Alto Research Center, died on Tuesday at age 90.

Innovators: they're a rare breed. The world just lost one this week.

Physicist and Xerox chief scientist Jacob Goldman, the man who founded the company's legendary Palo Alto Research Center, died on Tuesday at age 90.

PARC is the place where the personal computer was first invented, and is the benchmark by which all corporations measure internal innovation.

In the 1960s, Xerox was primarily an office copier manufacturer, but wanted to explore expansion into new markets. The company thought that a research laboratory would help it get there, exploring such ideas as "the office of the future" and "the architecture of information."

(Hard to believe now, but imagine tossing around these phrases in the age of the manual typewriter, decades before microprocessors were a consumer commodity.)

Goldman had the vision for what PARC could be, and was central in attempts to justify a research lab that would not bear any fruit for five, 10 or more years. At the time, that was a difficult reality for Xerox to swallow -- as was the idea of a West Coast lab in the days before "Silicon Valley" existed.

The rest is history, of course: the personal computer Alto, the Ethernet, laser printing and the graphical user interface (GUI) were all developed within PARC's walls, then later commercialized by tech giants Microsoft and Apple.

Photo: The Alto personal computer in 1973. (PARC/Xerox)

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