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Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer

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Ask consumers and users what names they associate with the multibillion dollar personal computer market, and they will answer IBM, Apple, Tandy, or Lotus. The more knowledgable of them will add the likes of Microsoft, Ashton-Tate, Compaq, and Borland. But no one will say Xerox. Fifteen years after it invented personal computing, Xerox still means "copy." More than anything Ask consumers and users what names they associate with the multibillion dollar personal computer market, and they will answer IBM, Apple, Tandy, or Lotus. The more knowledgable of them will add the likes of Microsoft, Ashton-Tate, Compaq, and Borland. But no one will say Xerox. Fifteen years after it invented personal computing, Xerox still means "copy." More than anything, Fumbling the Future is a tale of human beings whose talents, hopes, fears, habits, and prejudices determine the fate of our largest organizations and of our best ideas. In an era in which technological creativity and economic change are so critical to the competitiveness of the American economy, Fumbling the Future is a parable for our times.


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Ask consumers and users what names they associate with the multibillion dollar personal computer market, and they will answer IBM, Apple, Tandy, or Lotus. The more knowledgable of them will add the likes of Microsoft, Ashton-Tate, Compaq, and Borland. But no one will say Xerox. Fifteen years after it invented personal computing, Xerox still means "copy." More than anything Ask consumers and users what names they associate with the multibillion dollar personal computer market, and they will answer IBM, Apple, Tandy, or Lotus. The more knowledgable of them will add the likes of Microsoft, Ashton-Tate, Compaq, and Borland. But no one will say Xerox. Fifteen years after it invented personal computing, Xerox still means "copy." More than anything, Fumbling the Future is a tale of human beings whose talents, hopes, fears, habits, and prejudices determine the fate of our largest organizations and of our best ideas. In an era in which technological creativity and economic change are so critical to the competitiveness of the American economy, Fumbling the Future is a parable for our times.

30 review for Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, the First Personal Computer

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    great story but the number of characters and writing style made it tough to follow at times.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Scott Holstad

    I think this is an excellent overview of how Xerox created the first personal computer in 1973 and then did absolutely nothing with it, due to unbelievable incompetence, thus losing out on the biggest market share any company has probably ever seen and billions of dollars. It supplements Dealers of Lightning, which is an excellent book on Xerox PARC, the research facility behind the creation of the computer, and gives a behind the scenes look from the top level down of the company as a whole. Th I think this is an excellent overview of how Xerox created the first personal computer in 1973 and then did absolutely nothing with it, due to unbelievable incompetence, thus losing out on the biggest market share any company has probably ever seen and billions of dollars. It supplements Dealers of Lightning, which is an excellent book on Xerox PARC, the research facility behind the creation of the computer, and gives a behind the scenes look from the top level down of the company as a whole. Thus, I think the two books go well together, hand in hand. By 1973, PARC had created a system they called EARS (Ethernet, Alto, Research character generator, Scanned laser output). So, they invented ethernet, the PC (the Alto), the mouse, and the laser printer. They also produced the first bit mapped images on the first GUI displays, some of the first and easiest programming languages, the first easy to use text editor, and a host of other things. And all Xerox management did was pretend they didn't exist. Cause Xerox Sold Copiers!!! What the hell were computers anyway? They were just glorified word processors for secretaries. (Wouldn't that have given them enough business to start producing them?) By the time 1980 rolled around, it became clear that other companies were eating them for lunch and their market share had plummeted, and IBM was rumored to be investing in their own PC, so Xerox finally got serious. With the Star. Created by a group that was separate from PARC, Xerox's embarrassment. When the Star was released, it cost about $12,000 and needed a $30,000 printer and God knows what else. And it wouldn't run anyone else's software. Meanwhile all of these little Japanese companies were creating cheap PCs with standardized parts that could run anyone's software and use anyone's parts. The Star was a disaster. Xerox was never the same. I seriously hope the morons at the top learned their lesson. Finally, I noticed this book was published in 1999, although first published in 1988 by iUniverse, which is a self publishing company. I have no idea why these authors self published. In my opinion, this book is good enough for a traditional publisher to have snapped up and published. Maybe they were just impatient, I don't know. Regardless, it was a good book and certainly recommended for anyone interested in learning about the interesting history behind the first personal computer.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Keerthan

    3.5/5 An interesting look into the pitfalls of too quick an ascension, significant mismanagement, and an office culture teeming with overconfidence and inertia. The fact that different components of the organization shared a mutual passionate dislike didn't help either. At times, I found the office politics and personal feuds to be more detailed than necessary. The book also hosts a large number of characters, and focuses mostly on the (mis)management, than the technical innovations. Nonetheless, 3.5/5 An interesting look into the pitfalls of too quick an ascension, significant mismanagement, and an office culture teeming with overconfidence and inertia. The fact that different components of the organization shared a mutual passionate dislike didn't help either. At times, I found the office politics and personal feuds to be more detailed than necessary. The book also hosts a large number of characters, and focuses mostly on the (mis)management, than the technical innovations. Nonetheless, there were several takeaways, and the book does form a useful and interesting case study.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Victor

    A great management retrospective, an X ray into the decisions and managerial blunders that may have led to the missed opportunity. It is easy to make decisions on hindsight, but that does not discount the lessons learnt from this. That both individual contributor and manager plays a significant role in the success of the company, and that we should be careful of who we hire, their personality and bias-ness. Also structuring the team such that there's accountability and that voices are heard. Over A great management retrospective, an X ray into the decisions and managerial blunders that may have led to the missed opportunity. It is easy to make decisions on hindsight, but that does not discount the lessons learnt from this. That both individual contributor and manager plays a significant role in the success of the company, and that we should be careful of who we hire, their personality and bias-ness. Also structuring the team such that there's accountability and that voices are heard. Overall many lessons to be learnt. The author does not spell them out, but gives and exposition of what happened and let us identify the lessons or mistakes ourselves.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rogue Reader

    I remember the sequence of this technology and the excitement of each advancement. In retrospect, it's difficult to understand how Xerox was not able to bring the personal computer to market given the market penetration, sales staff, and resources. It's that last bit, the cup to the lip, where they slipped. I remember the sequence of this technology and the excitement of each advancement. In retrospect, it's difficult to understand how Xerox was not able to bring the personal computer to market given the market penetration, sales staff, and resources. It's that last bit, the cup to the lip, where they slipped.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dan Cohen

    I've been meaning to read this book for 20 years and finally got around to getting hold of a copy and reading it. It provides a good high-level overview of the story of Xerox's ground-breaking research at PARC into some of the most important ideas and technologies that eventually made up the personal computer. However, the book mainly focusses on the management of Xerox and how they failed to take advantage of the huge lead they built in this area. Written by 2 management consultants, the book d I've been meaning to read this book for 20 years and finally got around to getting hold of a copy and reading it. It provides a good high-level overview of the story of Xerox's ground-breaking research at PARC into some of the most important ideas and technologies that eventually made up the personal computer. However, the book mainly focusses on the management of Xerox and how they failed to take advantage of the huge lead they built in this area. Written by 2 management consultants, the book dissects Xerox's management failures over many years and paints some unflattering portraits of the managers involved. The book is quite short and easily read, and the technical detail is very thin, so I'm now reading "Dealers of Lightning" to bulk out my understanding - for someone interested in the technology "Dealers of Lightning" is probably the better bet. But "Fumbling the Future" is certainly worth reading anyway, especially if the reader's interest is focussed on the management lessons rather than the technological history.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    Xerox hired the best and brightest computer guys in the early 1970s. In 1973 they produced the Alto, a personal computer with bitmap graphic display & mouse; ethernet local area networking; and a laser printer. They called the system EARS (Ethernet, Alto, Research character generator, Scanned laser output). That’s right, they invented the PC, ethernet, the mouse, and the laser printer. Corporate management thought they were nuts and ignored it. This book describes in sweet detail the origin of m Xerox hired the best and brightest computer guys in the early 1970s. In 1973 they produced the Alto, a personal computer with bitmap graphic display & mouse; ethernet local area networking; and a laser printer. They called the system EARS (Ethernet, Alto, Research character generator, Scanned laser output). That’s right, they invented the PC, ethernet, the mouse, and the laser printer. Corporate management thought they were nuts and ignored it. This book describes in sweet detail the origin of modern computing that isn’t common knowledge.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dozo

    Fumbling the Future is the story of how Xerox created key tenants of modern computing but then due to internal politics failed to commercialise it. I found the book contained a lot of interesting research and commercial wisdom written in an accessible style, mixing interviews with the author's own commentary. Highly recommended. Fumbling the Future is the story of how Xerox created key tenants of modern computing but then due to internal politics failed to commercialise it. I found the book contained a lot of interesting research and commercial wisdom written in an accessible style, mixing interviews with the author's own commentary. Highly recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    I read this because the CEO of my company was in it. It is an interesting story about the failures of Xerox to capitalize on the computer revolution, ultimately to concede it to Apple, IBM, and Sun. It also showed how the culture of Silicon Valley was set by Xerox PARC, where so many future technology greats worked and eventually left to start their own companies (like Bob Metcalfe).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Zeenat

    A fantastic case study of how utilizing pure financial cost-benefit analysis ruins the risk -reward factors of revolutionary technology! Probably a book focused more for entrepreneurs in the tech world - especially us nerds that worked at PARC!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Pablo Vicente Vicente

    A good resume about Xerox and her policy about innovation and all enterprise stuff. It's a good read to know about them and the first PC, "The alto" A good resume about Xerox and her policy about innovation and all enterprise stuff. It's a good read to know about them and the first PC, "The alto"

  12. 5 out of 5

    Wilbur Omae

  13. 4 out of 5

    Brian Ellenberger

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Dalton

  15. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Gligorov

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bob S

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  19. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Kobal

  20. 5 out of 5

    Gideon

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

  22. 5 out of 5

    Andrew M Napper

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Napolitano

  24. 4 out of 5

    David Stewart

  25. 4 out of 5

    Aakash1593

  26. 5 out of 5

    Richard Blue

  27. 5 out of 5

    Fred Collin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Azhar Ahmad

  29. 4 out of 5

    Blake Helms

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

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