Timeline: PARC milestones

Computing innovations from Palo Alto Research Center's first 40 years

Since its founding as Xerox PARC in 1970, Palo Alto Research Center has been home to several of computing's most important inventions and technological advancements . Thousands of researchers and scientists from a wide range of disciplines have gathered at PARC over the past 40 years, sharing their theories on everything from how computers can better talk to each other to how clean technologies can be used to address critical manufacturing problems.

Both before and after its spinoff from Xerox in 2002, PARC has been a global leader in research and development on behalf of a wide variety of companies and institutions. Additionally, PARC has launched dozens of companies -- including e-paper display manufacturer Gyricon Media, data visualization and analytics tools provider Inxight Software and collaboration software maker LiveWorks -- that market products and technologies developed at PARC.

So what has PARC brought to the world of IT? Here are some of the computing-related highlights of the company's first 40 years:

1971: The process of laser printing with a bitmapped electronic image on a xerographic copier drum is developed at PARC.

The Xerox Alto prompted related innovations including WYSIWYG editors, GUIs, bitmapped displays and simultaneous file storage.Click to view larger image.

1972: The object-oriented programming language Smalltalk is created at PARC to make it possible to improve computer programs without completely rewriting them.

1973: The Xerox Alto personal workstation, one of the first personal computers, is created, mostly for internal use at PARC. The Alto's development led to many related innovations in computing, including the world's first WYSIWYG (What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get) editor, the first graphical user interface (GUI) and the first bitmapped display (see below).

PARC also begins developing Ethernet networking -- now a worldwide standard -- to connect computers and printers in a local-area network.

A partial sketch of Ethernet schematics by co-inventor Bob Metcalfe.Click to view larger image.

1974: Cut-and-paste, bitmapped editing protocols are created for formatting computer files in a WYSIWYG manner, as with the Bravo word processing program, which was also introduced at PARC this year.

1975: PARC debuts the GUI with icons, pop-up menus and overlapping windows, controlled with point-and-click interaction. It became the basis for the GUIs we use today.

1980: Non-erasable, magneto-optical storage devices, originally designed for use with the Alto computer, are developed at PARC and later commercialized by PARC spinoff Optimem.

PARC's graphical user interface inspired almost all subsequent GUIs. Shown here: the Smalltalk GUI.Click to view larger image.

1982: PARC launches the first optical-fiber-cable-based local-area network.

1986: The first multibeam lasers, which lead to a new generation of high-speed, high-resolution printing systems, are designed and built at PARC.

1987: PARC creates a 16-bit coding system for characters across the world's languages; it will be developed into the Unicode standard, which allows computers to represent and recognize text in any language.

1988: PARC unveils its "ubiquitous computing" vision to describe how people will use mobile devices to interact with their work in the future. PARC builds prototype devices such as the palm-size PARCTab and book-size PARCPad as research testbeds.

The PARCTab, a prototype handheld device that was a precursor to the PDA. Click to view larger image.

1992: PARC researchers help design the underlying protocols that enable the Internet to work.

2000: PARC announces "electronic reusable paper," a thin, flexible digital document display technology; Gyricon Media is spun off from PARC to commercialize the e-paper technology.

2002: PARC is spun off from Xerox and becomes an independent subsidiary.

2010: Scientists at PARC are working on many technological initiatives today, from finding ways to further reduce power consumption in data centers to content-centric networking, which streamlines the transmission of any content over the Internet to save time and speed throughput.

Next: Photo gallery: PARC through the years

Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. He spends his spare time working on a book about an unheralded member of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and watching classic Humphrey Bogart movies. You can follow him on Twitter, where his handle is @TechManTalking . His e-mail address is toddrweiss@gmail.com .

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