How Apple made the computer mouse

“The myth — repeated ad nauseam by Apple naysayers — is that Steve Jobs stole the ideas behind the Macintosh from Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center,” Philip Elmer-DeWitt reports for Fortune. “The truth is that he paid for them — with 100,000 shares of his company a year before its initial public offering.”

“The deeper truth, which Malcom (“The Tipping Point”) Gladwell explores at length in the current issue of the New Yorker, is that Jobs had no interest in reproducing the work the team at Xerox PARC had done,” P.E.D. reports.

Gladwell writes: “The difference between direct and indirect manipulation—between three buttons and one button, three hundred dollars and fifteen dollars, and a roller ball supported by ball bearings and a free-rolling ball—is not trivial. It is the difference between something intended for experts, which is what Xerox PARC had in mind, and something that’s appropriate for a mass audience, which is what Apple had in mind. PARC was building a personal computer. Apple wanted to build a popular computer.”

Read more in the full article here.

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27 Comments

  1. It’s great that as Apple’s fortunes rise, and more folks see for themselves the details of design and what makes Apple Apple, then a by-product will be more folks willing to take a second look at the history of the PC and more ready to re-evaluate the standard PC-centric narrative.

      1. He generally doesn’t. As seen in the Tipping Point and his dozens if not hundreds of NY’er articles, Gladwell’s MO is to futhrer popularize already-popular ideas by focusing on a few flashy ideas and being a consistently smooth if never-exciting prose stylist. It certainly has never been to add any real depth to the discussion, contribute a comprehensive history of his topic, or even get everything right that he does discuss.

  2. I read in a book that I believe was written by Steve Jobs at least 20 years ago about how he did not like the mouse. He kept doing trials with various groups and they all liked it and he did not understand why. Finally he gave in and adopted the mouse.

  3. The mouse was NOT invented by or at Xerox PARC. It was invented at SRI, Stanford Research Institute. A film on the first public showing of a mouse as an input device and explanation of how it worked at SRI is often shown to Apple Engineers. So no one at Apple believes that Apple invented the mouse or many of the other technologies used in Appleʻs products. They give credit where credit is due.

      1. I worked at Apple from ’79 through ’85. One of my direct managers previously had worked at SRI for Douglas Englebart.

        Never a claim that we invented the mouse…

    1. Actually, far, far more than that – the stock has split several times along the way. My guess is that the value of those shares today would be over $100 Million.

      1. On the day of IPO Apple was valued at $1.78 billion at the $29 stock price, which makes 61 million of total shares outstanding.

        Thus Xerox owned 0.16% of Apple; in today’s money that would be about $53 million.

        1. This price show how “high” Xerox’s management “valued” whole PARC thing. No wonder that the likes of Alan Key went work for Jobs — Xerox did not take the scientists seriously.

          1. And before any more “dood” comments may appear, I would advice to take notice that total capitalization has nothing to do with the quantity of shares issued for sale in the stock market (there was small release at IPO in December of 1980 and another small in May of 1981).

    2. Given that PARC had the GUI, the mouse, Ethernet, and communication protocols (before TCP/IP became the defacto standard) all in the late ’70s, and yet failed to capitalize on *any* of it, I’d guess that Xerox didn’t have the foresight to hang onto any of the shares.

      1. Xerox had the foresight but deliberately disregarded it as it had defined itself as a ‘document’ company.

        I recall reading somewhere that they wanted to position themselves at the paper document side of the digital interface as it was their turf by birthright. However, since their market share was under attack from Canon and others it only led to reinforce this bunker mentality.

        So PARC was just an interesting side show for their Board… and SJ was right to approach them with a deal which they knowingly entered into even though senior execs at PARC were telling them that they were giving away something of importance.

      2. PARC also, as I recall, had the makings of Postscript. They couldn’t make anything of that either and it, of course, made its splash later through Adobe.

        Just think of the billions invested by Microsoft Labs, the myriad patents they create. They haven’t had much success translating those innovations either.

      3. I worked with a number of ex-PARC engineers at Apple, and later at Sun. Most of them listed “being able to actually ship things I worked on” as being a factor in leaving PARC for other companies.

        Great environment for working out ideas, not so much for finishing up with products based on them.

  4. The site folklore.org from the very inventors and engineers from Apple is where to go. Want the facts and truth? This site should be the first step in your research.

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