2020 End of an Era – Dawn of the Next

It’s January 2020, which has kind of a nice ring to it and yes, perhaps a fitting time to muse over the passing of a technology giant, as we consider the dawn of what’s next.

You may have read plenty of the latter in these pages as we’ve just covered the 2020 CES, but In case you missed it, the father of the laser printer, Gary Starkweather, died this past week, from leukemia. His technology outlived his years, but oh what years they were! He unleashed a desktop revolution with an idea whose time had come, creating a central component in the dawn of the modern office suite.

Starkweather’s laser printer, and the Alto computer that powered it, inspired the genius of a nascent Steve Jobs, giving meat and flesh to the skeletal structure his pal Steve Wozniak, (“the Woz”) created in the Apple, computer, birthed, in a silicon valley garage. The birthing of Apple’s commercially viable technology that now fits on a desktop, was crying out for an application to give it meaning, purpose, a raison d’être and PARC was happy to oblige.

Xerox 9700 electronic printing system, source xerox PARC

A researcher first at Bausch & Lomb (East coast USA) then, Xerox, Starkweather’s true genius unfolded years beyond what the corporate (copy machine) company could foresee. Fortunately for us, he found a place with other visionaries at the Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). There, along with other visionaries, like Alan Kayye and Butler Lampson’s team, developed the building blocks of the modern computer desktop era. But it took one more ingredient, an insanely free thinking spirit, in the form of an eager Steve Jobs, master of vision, marketing and market creation. He knew, and created solutions the customer wanted, before we even suspected it.

Steve Jobs adopted the PARC ideas wholesale into his ground-breaking commercial success, Macintosh computer. Truth be told, everything from the fonts, (Kayye’s specialty) mouse, and graphics-based personal computer, to the laser printer output device with stunningly perfect print replication, all came from PARC, where sat Starkweather’s laser printer and Lampson’s Alto PC project. Xerox corporate, showing no interest, the PARC team was happy to share what they knew to be something big, to someone – anyone who would listen. And those willing pair of ears belonged to Steve Jobs.

With a focus on graphics arts, and preserving the past achievements of fonts, vectors and empowering elements of design, (Jobs himself studied calligraphy at Reed College here in the Pacific Northwest) the desktop publishing revolution began in earnest, and we, society as a whole the benefactors in both productivity and wealth creation.

Just how much you may ask, well by one measure, this past week a fourth technology company just past the $1T (trillion) mark (one thousand billion dollar market value), namely Alphabet (Goole parent) along with Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon.

A wise man once said,

“…you’re never where you’re not supposed to be, and you know this because you are here!”

Looking back on the time, place, and events of that dawn of desktops gives one pause to consider the bigger things to be grateful for, like Gary Starkweather and his amazing contribution to the modern era. – Yes, the universe really does have our back… – Stephen Sechrist