GUI (Graphical User Interface) is a system of icons, task bars and other elementary tools that personal computer users require in order to access and manipulate information in a personal computer. In the modern world, today, most of PC users enjoy these privileges offered by GUI without knowing a vivid history of its origin. The first practical GUI made its debut in 1974 in small sizes that ensured portability in contrast to the bulky mainframes that were dominantly in use during that time (Ferguson, 2010). To enhance the features of the GUI, the invention of the Alto in 1981 sparked off sophisticated designs and concepts that resulted into a streamlined GUI, an ideal fit for the first ever practical PC, the Xerox Star (Ferguson, 2010).
Many acclaim Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) as the most innovative and flouring corporate research lab based in the US in the 1970s. Xerox PARC became a household name in the technology world because of its highly intelligent and brilliant scientists. In fact, in the mid 1970s, Xerox PARC housed the top 100 computer scientists in the world. In addition to inventing the GUI for personal computers, researchers at Xerox invented the laser printer and the Ethernet local area connection (Ferguson, 2010).
Financial analysts and business moguls heavily disparage Xerox for its immense failure in commercialization and profitable exploitation of PARC’s most groundbreaking innovations like the GUI. According to Triumph of the Nerds, a 1966 documentary film hosted by Robert Cringely, Xerox had the ability to establish itself as a number one company in PC development. However, it failed at realizing the potential value of the graphical user interface (Ferguson, 2010). Subsequent to visiting Xerox lab, Steve Jobs developed a Macintosh containing desktop manager with an icon based interface inspired by the Alto. Moreover, in exchange of a block of stock from Apple, Xerox allowed Steve Jobs and other prominent scientists from Apple to use ideas developed in the Xerox lab in order to enhance their innovations. Unfortunately, subsequent to signing this agreement, Apple hired almost half of the brilliant scientists from Xerox. The GUI (Xerox Star), an initial development of the PARC, sold an estimated amount of 25,000 units subsequent to its launch in the market. Critics consider this figure a failure since GUI largely influenced future computer designs (Lecture 11, 2012).
Despite its terrific innovations in technology, Xerox failed terribly at commercialization. Quoting Steve Jobs in his speech in 1996, “Xerox had the potential to own the whole computing sector. It could have been the IBM or the Microsoft of the nineties” (Ferguson, 2010). One prominent reason that led to the failure of the GUI as a Xerox invention was decision making. In decision-making, the Xerox Company focused largely on short-term incentives and political matters rather than on the innovations and new technologies. Secondly, Xerox started as a paper copier company. In that sense, the managers at Xerox perceived the company as a leading company in the copier business rather than a computer company (Lecture 11, 2012). Moreover, the managers at Xerox trained the sales team particularly on typewriters and copier machines rather than on the new technologies developed for the office. Consequently, the copier recorded more sales in comparison to computer innovations like the GUI. In addition, when it comes to sale of computers, Xerox targeted only IT professionals instead of focusing also on the managers who bought the copiers (Ferguson, 2010).
Strict rigid measures prohibited entrepreneurial scientists at Xerox from undertaking risky ventures. Xerox allowed only established and reserved scientists to lead new experiments. Consequently, Xerox lost innovative scientists who established companies greater than Xerox. Moreover, PARC perceived itself as an absolute research center. Therefore, scientists at Xerox lacked training and skills in sales, entrepreneurship, and customer development (Ferguson, 2010). Apart from that, corporate bureaucracy proved a challenge for Xerox scientists, who attempted to commercialize their innovations. Even though Xerox launched innovative ideas, it did fail at valuing and commercializing its innovations (Lecture 11, 2012).