not a beautiful or unique snowflake (nothings) wrote,
not a beautiful or unique snowflake

From a 1992 looking-back-on-Smalltalk paper by Alan Kay (paper only of interest to those interested in the history of development of Smalltalk and the earliest PC) comes an interesting insight into Xerox PARC. Remember them, the inventors of laser printers, ethernet, bitmapped displays, overlapping windows, and all that stuff? Why didn't they actually manage to profit more from all those inventions?

He says, "I wrote many memos to the Xerox planners trying to get them to make plans that included personal computing as one of their main directions. Here is an example:" (written in 1976)

A Simple Vision of the Future

A Brief Update Of My 1971 Pendery Paper

In the 1990's there will be millions of personal copmuters. They will be the size of notebooks of today, have high-resolution flat-screen reflective displays, weigh less than ten pounds, have ten to twenty times the computing and storage capacity of an Alto [the Xerox PARC prototype PC]. Let's call them Dynabooks.

The purchase price will be about that of a color television set of the era, although most of the machines will be given away by manufactures who will be marketing the content rather than the container of person computing.

... [this excerpting by Alan Kay's 1992 paper, not me]

Though the Dynabook will have considerable local storage and will do most copmuting locally, it will spend a large percentage of its time hooked to various large, global information utilities which will permit communication with others of ideas, data, working models, as well as the daily chit-chat that organizations need in order to function. The communications link will be by private and public wires and by packet radio. Dynabooks will also be used as servers in the information utilities. They will have enough power to be enitrely shaped by software.

The Main Points Of This Vision

  • There need only be a few hardware types to handle almost all of the processing activity of a system.
  • Personal Computers, Communication Links, and Information Utilities are the three critical components of a Xerox future.

I'm usually pretty cautious about people saying "look, I predicted this", since with 10,000 people making predictions, somebody's bound to be right just by chance. In this case, though, we're talking about a guy who did invent a lot of this, and apparently foresaw an awful lot more. (Yeah, some of the above didn't come to pass exactly, but often there is an underlying kernel of truth--e.g. hardware isn't sold as a loss leader, but the software market is a lot more important, and I assume has higher revenues.)

Which makes me go, "hey, what's he predicting for twenty years from now?" Unfortunately, his pet project today is a 3d collaborative environment that seems to me to be awfully an answer-in-seach-of a problem. But he also doesn't actually seem to be making any major predictions.

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