Jacob “Jack” Goldman — the man who founded the lab that pretty much invented the personal computer as we know it — has died at age 90.
Goldman was the Xerox Chief Scientist who in 1969 proposed that the company create a pure research laboratory that would put Xerox in the same league as IBM and AT&T, whose Yorktown Heights and Bell Labs facilities are now legendary.
The result was Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) — the birthplace of the graphical user interface, Ethernet, the laser printer, and object-oriented programming.
Goldman died Tuesday from congestive heart failure, the New York Times reports.
Goldman hired physicist George Pake to run PARC, which set up shop in Palo Alto, California, in 1970. Working on the East Coast, Goldman championed the lab to Xerox corporate management, keeping it independent from the rest of the company and free to innovate.
“He really enabled the computer scientists who got brought together at PARC to follow their noses and develop the technology,” says Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist with the Los Angeles Times who is the author of Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. “He had a more general sense that computer science was going to be an important technology in the near future in 1970 and specifically was going to be a threat to Xerox if it didn’t get its arms around it.”
Goldman made PARC great, in part, by knowing when to recognize good ideas from others. He initially wanted to locate the lab near Yale University, but he let Pake talk him into nestling the lab next to Stanford. He also deferred to Pake on the name of the laboratory, saving history from remembering the great Xerox ASS (Advanced Scientific & Systems) Laboratory.
Xerox recruited Goldman from the Ford Motor Company in 1969, and one of his first jobs was to make sense of Xerox’s disastrous $918 million purchase of now-forgotten computer maker Scientific Data Systems.
The acquisition was a mistake. But it had an upside. It gave Goldman a justification for building PARC as a new R&D lab for the company’s computer division.
Xerox PARC is generally thought of as the place that invented much of the cool stuff that Microsoft and Apple made billions ripping off, but Hiltzik has a more charitable take on the PARC’s legacy. “It wasn’t really reasonable to expect that a corporation like Xerox could shift into this entirely new market and this entirely new technology on the scale that was required,” Hiltzik says. “Everything from its conventional R&D process to its sales process was built around the copier.”