This is the Third historical book written about a business. The first was the history of Bell Labs and compared to that book, this was a wild ride in terms of organization. It would bounce back and forth over the span of ten years, while Idea Factory (Bell Labs book) was a stately possession moving forward with time. I believe that the major difference was that while a lot was happening at Bell Labs, it wasn’t crammed into 10 years. It occurred over 40 years or more, which allowed the author to pick and choose the people to follow. In Dealers of Lightning so much was happening at the same time with the same people and unique people that it forced the author to jump backwards and forwards through time.
Despite that, it really made me realize how much we owe to PARC researchers in the 70’s for technology we have today. If you’re using a tablet, one of the very first visionaries that created that concept was Alan Kay, he first envisioned it in the 60’s and from what was described in the book, the iPad is pretty much true to his vision. Amazing to be honest.
Here’s a list of things they made:
Object Oriented Programming
The First mass produced PC
The predecessor to Word
The original Desktop
VLSI, what has enabled the development of basically every semiconductor chip
The first Graphics Chip
Copy, Cut, and Paste
The right click
First Laser Printer
The predecessor to Postscript (Adobe)
A piece of software where you could edit text and pictures at the same time
A computer in 1982 that had 6000 Japanese characters and could type in 100+ languages and it’s capabilities wouldn’t be match again until the 90’s
Dramatically influenced Apple, Microsoft, 3Com (Metcalfe founded this after leaving PARC), Adobe (2 PARC researchers founded this), and many other companies.
Xerox was a visionary company to fund a research agency like PARC. PARC was likely one of the last of its kind as well. There are very few companies that have a similar branch of research facilities that push basic and applied scientific research. I suggest reading this book, just so it helps you understand where the technology we all use and love came from.
I give this book 4/5. Well researched, great topic, difficult to write because of the concurrent activities.