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Friday, August 26, 2005

Dealers of Lightning, Michael Hiltzik

Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) invented the concepts that went into the modern computer that we use today. Mice, icon based bitmapped displays, WYSIWIG word processors, ethernet, file servers, object-oriented programming, and the laser printer. Yet Xerox did not make money from any of these inventions except the laser printer, and even then fumbled it by introducing it too late. This book is an indictment of Xerox's corporate culture, its short-sighted executives, and is the perfect illustration of my thesis that a technology company (or any company affected by technology) that is not mature must be run by engineers for it to be successful beyond the short term. Of course, that's not the only factor. Everything else also has to be done right (marketing, sales, etc), but if the key executives do not have the vision to pursue technological break-throughs and turn them into product, you might as well not bother funding an R&D lab.

Xerox's top executives were for the most part salesmen of copy machines. From these leased behemoths the revenue stream was as tangible as the "click" of the meters counting of copies, for which the customer paid Xerox so many cents per page (and from which Xerox paid its salespersons their commissions). Noticing their eyes narrow, Ellenby could almost hear them thinking: "If there is no paper to be copies, where's the `click'?" In other words: "How will I get paid?"

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