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PARC Turns 40

The Palo Alto Research Center, better known as PARC, turns 40 this year. Founded by Xerox Corporation in 1970 under the direction of Dr. George Pake, the charter for Xerox PARC was to create "the office of the future," and the storied center for technological innovation has more than made good on its mission. Famed for being a hotbed for technological advancements over the past four decades and for contributions to computing as varied as WYSIWYG cut-and-paste bitmapped editing, the creation of the first "worm," and Unicode, just a few highlights in PARC history include:

  • In 1973, PARC computer scientists Bob Metcalfe and Dave Boggs invent the Ethernet, a standard for connecting computers over short distances. Metcalfe left PARC in 1979 and founded 3Com Corporation, a manufacturer of computer networking equipment.
  • In 1979, former PARC researcher Doug Fairbairn co-founded VLSI Technologies, Inc. The methodologies used were developed at PARC by Fairbairn and Lynn Conway with California Institute of Technology researcher Carver Mead. VLSI Technologies, Inc. became the pioneer of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) technology. In 1999, it was acquired by Philips Electronics and is part of Philips spin-off NXP Semiconductors.
  • In 1973, PARC researcher Dick Shoup invented SuperPaint, a pioneering graphics program and pixel-based frame buffer system. In 1979, Shoup left PARC to co-found graphics company Aurora Systems to develop and market further generations of painting and animation systems and to supply computer graphic services for the video broadcast and production markets.  Shoup won an Emmy award in 1983 for his work done at PARC in the 1970s, and an Academy Award for Scientific and Technical Achievement in 1998.
  • PARC engineer John Warnock created the Interpress Page Description Language, a proprietary computer language to control Xerox laser printers. Warnock and PARC Imaging Sciences Laboratory manager Charles Geschke founded Adobe Systems, Inc. in 1983 to develop PostScript, a next-generation Page Description language that became the standard in desktop publishing.
  • The Smalltalk-80 object-oriented programming language was commercialized through the formation of ParcPlace Systems in 1988. Smalltalk was the first object-oriented programming language with an integrated user interface, overlapping windows, integration documents, and cut & paste editor. ParcPlace became ObjectShare in 1997, and its VisualWorks business unit was acquired by Cincom Systems in 1999.
  • PARC’s research on how a sense of place can create more meaningful interaction on the Internet resulted in a 1996 spin-out company called Placeware. The company provided users with a live, Web-based presentation solution for field and customer communication, and became the largest Internet meeting solutions provider. Placeware was acquired by Microsoft in 2003 to become Microsoft Office LiveMeeting.

The Mercury News has published an interesting retrospective article about PARC here, and Scientific American has posted a Q&A with founding PARC research fellow David Biegelsen here.

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