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Xerox Star

From Academic Kids

The Xerox Star, officially known as the 8010, was a revolutionary computer workstation released as a commercial product in 1981. The Star workstation hardware was known as a Dandelion, or Dlion, based on the "Wildflower" architecture paper by Butler Lampson. Its CPU was a microprogrammed bit-sliced running a virtual machine for the Mesa programming language, a direct precursor to Modula-2 and Modula-3. The Star was developed by the Xerox Systems Development Division, and not at the famous Xerox Palo Alto Research Center as commonly supposed. Many of the ideas in Star originated at PARC, such as WYSIWYG, Ethernet, and network services such as Directory, Print, File, and internetwork routing. However, the product versions were distinct from the research versions.

The Xerox Star was not originally meant to be a stand-alone computer, but was part of an integrated Xerox "personal office system" that also connected to other workstations and network services via Ethernet. The Xerox Star was the first commercial computer to use a graphical user interface (GUI) with the familiar desktop-with-icons metaphor and a mouse. In this it borrowed several designs from the earlier Xerox Alto computer.

The Xerox Star is considered by many to be a commercial failure because only about 25 thousand were sold. However, the Star product laid important groundwork for the computers of today.

There is a common story that a trip to Xerox PARC by Apple Computer's Steve Jobs led to the GUI and mouse being integrated into the Apple Lisa and, later, the first Apple Macintosh. This is only partially true. Steve Jobs was shown the Smalltalk-80 programming environment which had a small portion of the GUI features in the Star—for example it didn't have a desktop or icons. The Lisa engineering team saw Star at its introduction and came back and converted what had been a text-based user interface into a GUI. The initial Macintosh interface was a simplified version of the Lisa interface (i.e., single-tasking), supporting only a single floppy drive instead of the hard drive of the Lisa (and Star).

Over there years many people have complained that Apple, Microsoft (and others) ripped off the GUI (and other innovations) from the Xerox Star. There have also been complaints that Xerox didn't properly protect their intellectual property. The truth is a bit more complicated. Many patent disclosures were submitted for the innovations in the Star. At the time the 1975 Xerox Consent Decree restricted what the company was able to patent. When the Star disclosures were being prepared the Xerox patent attorneys were busy with new technologies like laser printing. And finally, software patents were an untried area at that time.

External Links

Star graphics: An object-oriented implementation (http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=801270)

Traits: An approach to multiple-inheritance subclassing (http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=966873.806468)

The Xerox "Star": A Retrospective (http://members.dcn.org/dwnelson/XeroxStarRetrospective.html)de:Xerox Star it:Xerox Star pl:Xerox Star

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