Thursday, July 19, 2007

Fascinating Reads !

Now, I am sure that everyone has encountered a fascinating read at least once during their reading adventures, right ? The one that I am currently engrossed in is called "The Dream Machine, J. C. R Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal" by M. Mitchell Waldrop. It's long (~500 pages) and each page contains an absolute treasure trove of information on the story that you never hear when you read about personal computers. It is absolutely amazing to read that there was a large number of people who had started to think of individualized or personal computing as far back as in the early 1960s. And these are the people whose writings and visions led to where personal computing is today. For example, did you know that a prototype the first actual desktop computer was built in 1962 and was called the LINC (named after MIT's Lincoln Labs where it was conceived by creator Wes Clark) ? Did you know that the Alto was the first personal computer to use a bitmapped graphical display and a windowing environment written in Smalltalk ?

There are also some things about the popular PC folklore that I did know at all. For example, the story about Steve Jobs visiting Xerox PARC and stealing the concept of a graphical user interface is not entirely true. What actually happened was the Xerox's venture capital arm was anxious to invest in Apple (seeing as how popular the Apple II was) and so a deal was struck - "... Xerox would be allowed to invest $1.05 million in Apple's private stock sale and, in return, it would allow Apple full access to PARC's technology." (emphasis mine). Even though they were blown away when the actual capabilities of Smalltalk were demonstrated by the PARC staff, no actual technology transfer every took place. The partnership fell apart soon and Apple's chief programmer, Bill Atkinson, basically re-implemented almost everything from scratch.

I think calling this book a fascinating read does not do the book justice. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the real history of the PC revolution - which started somewhere in the 1950s and not in the 1970s, as most people (including me) believed.