PARC (Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated), formerly Xerox PARC, is a research and development company in Palo Alto, California, with a distinguished reputation for its contributions to information technology and hardware systems.
Founded in 1970 as a division of Xerox Corporation, PARC has been responsible for such well known and important developments as laser printing, Ethernet, the modern personal computer, graphical user interface (GUI), object-oriented programming, ubiquitous computing, amorphous silicon (a-Si) applications, and advancing very-large-scale-integration (VLSI) for semiconductors.
Xerox formed Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary in 2002.
In 1969, Chief Scientist at Xerox Jack Goldman approached George Pake, a physicist specializing in nuclear magnetic resonance and provost of Washington University in St. Louis, about starting a second research center for the company.
Pake selected Palo Alto, California, as the site of what was to become known as PARC. While the 3,000 mile buffer between it and Xerox headquarters in Rochester, New York afforded scientists at the new lab great freedom to undertake their work, the distance also served as an impediment in persuading management of the promise of some of their greatest achievements.
PARC’s West Coast location proved to be advantageous in the mid-1970s, when the lab was able to hire many employees of the nearby SRI Augmentation Research Center as that facility’s funding from DARPA, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force began to diminish. Being situated on Stanford Research Park land leased from Stanford University allowed Stanford graduate students to be involved in PARC research projects, and PARC scientists to collaborate with academic seminars and projects.
Much of PARC’s early success in the computer field was under the leadership of its Computer Science Laboratory manager Bob Taylor, who guided the lab as associate manager from 1970 to 1977 and as manager from 1977 to 1983.
After three decades as a division of Xerox, PARC was transformed in 2002 into an independent, wholly owned subsidiary company dedicated to developing and maturing advances in science and business concepts with the support of commercial partners and clients.
Xerox remains the company’s largest customer (50%), but PARC has numerous other corporate and venture clients in different fields of use than Xerox including: VMware, Fujitsu, Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. (DNP), Samsung, NEC, SolFocus, Powerset, Thin Film Electronics ASA and many more.
PARC currently conducts research into “clean technology”, user interface design, sensemaking, ubiquitous computing and context-aware systems, large-area electronics, digital manufacturing, and model-based control and optimization in embedded, intelligent systems.
- Xerox PARC has been the inventor and incubator of many elements of modern computing in the contemporary office work place:
- Laser printers,
- Computer-generated bitmap graphics
- The Graphical user interface, featuring windows and icons, operated with a mouse
- The WYSIWYG text editor
- InterPress, a resolution-independent graphical page-description language and the precursor to PostScript
- Ethernet as a local-area computer network
- Fully formed object-oriented programming in the Smalltalk programming language and integrated development environment.
Most of these developments were included in the Alto, which added the now familiar SRI-developed mouse unifying into a single model most aspects of now-standard personal computer use. The integration of Ethernet prompted the development of the PARC Universal Packet architecture, much like today’s Internet.
Xerox has been heavily criticized (particularly by business historians) for failing to properly commercialize and profitably exploit PARC’s innovations. A favorite example is the GUI, initially developed at PARC for the Alto and then commercialized as the Xerox Star by the Xerox Systems Development Department. Although very significant in terms of its influence on future system design, it is deemed a failure because it only sold approximately 25,000 units. A small group from PARC led by David Liddle and Charles Irby formed Metaphor Computer Systems. They extended the Star desktop concept into an animated graphic and communicating office-automation model and sold the company to IBM.
Among PARC’s distinguished researchers were three Turing Award winners: Butler W. Lampson (1992), Alan Kay (2003), and Charles P. Thacker (2009). The ACM Software System Award recognized the Alto system in 1984, Smalltalk in 1987, InterLisp in 1992, and Remote Procedure Call in 1994. Lampson, Kay, Bob Taylor, and Charles P. Thacker received the National Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Charles Stark Draper Prize in 2004 for their work on the Alto.