Dealers of Lightning
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Dealers of Lightning

4.19 of 5 stars 4.19  ·  rating details  ·  394 ratings  ·  46 reviews
In the bestselling tradition of The Soul of a New Machine, Dealers of Lightning is a fascinating journey of intellectual creation. In the 1970s and '80s, Xerox Corporation brought together a brain-trust of engineering geniuses, a group of computer eccentrics dubbed PARC. This brilliant group created several monumental innovations that triggered a technological revolution,...more
ebook, 480 pages
Published May 19th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published March 1st 1999)
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Nate
Riveting read. Not as technical as I'd like - though I have yet to read any computer book that is. Mostly it's straight up porn for anyone who loves working with computers. PARC was one hell of a lab back in the day.
The most interesting part about this is seeing what really happened with Xerox and the first GUI PCs. It's not that they let the opportunity slip through their fingers, they were never the right company to produce an OS in the first place.
Still, it worked out well for virtually all...more
Goku
Xerox PARC is legendary as the home of some of the most brilliant minds in the history of computing. It played a pivotal role in the creation of (among other things) personal computers, GUIs, and the internet. It's also emblematic of the inability of large corporations to recognise and foster innovation. This book brilliantly captures the personalities of PARC, their triumphs, frustrations and clashes, with each other and with the Xerox suits. There's a good balance here in terms of attention to...more
Joe
A fascinating account of the invention of the personal computer at a Xerox research facility in the 1970s. Hiltzik's book explains how over the course of ten years some of the world's foremost computer scientists invented almost every feature that we have come to associate with personal computing--overlapping windows, "what you see is what you get" word processing, the desktop, high speed printing, connection to an Ethernet, point and click technology, the ubiquity of the mouse, and the use of i...more
Peter
Fascinating history of PARC and the people who made it the world's leading computer science research center in the 1970s. Does not specifically unpack the factors that made PARC excel, but contains enough information about its successes to draw broader lessons about creating conditions conducive to breakthrough R&D.

- Hire the best people
- Give them a long leash
- Force them to interact

Ethernet is a good example -- Bob Metcalfe was stringing coaxial cable through the PARC basement when he bu...more
Pete
Dealers of Lightning (2000) by Michael Hiltzik is an outstanding look at Xerox PARC. In terms of books on the history of technology it is up there with the excellent Triumph of the Nerds by Robert X Cringely about the history of the early PC industry.
PARC the Palo Alto Research Laboratory was started by Xerox in the early 1970s. The best known PARC development, the Alto was the first machine produced in numbers that featured a GUI. It took the research of Douglas Englebart who developed the mou...more
Liam
"The theory of second systems was formulated by an IBM executive named Frederick Brooks, whose career supervising large-scale software teams taught him that designers of computer systems tend to build into their second projects all the pet features that tight finances or short deadlines forced them to leave out of their first. The result is an overgrown, inefficient monstrosity that rarely works as expected. As he put it in his pithy masterpiece, The Mythical Man-Month: 'The second system is the...more
Jonas Andersson
Half business history, half computer history: It reduces to a story of a company that lost out on owning most of the "parts" that come in todays standard computer. Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) was the place to be if you wanted to make something cool in the 1970's. It seems bizarre, the idea of letting researchers invent whatever they wanted with a virtually unlimited budget. But their inventions were almost never patented or incorporated into Xerox products; because Xerox sold copiers...more
Brian
Oct 27, 2013 Brian rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Brian by: goodreads
Shelves: grbpp
(4.0) Great subject, stayed focused on the engineering, the projects (mostly)

I appreciate that Hiltzik stayed focused (more or less) on the actual engineering and creative projects, (vs What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, in which I think more time was spent on the (counter-)culture, the hippiness, everything going on around PARC at the time). We get threads of history, usually told through the projects (the Alto, the laser printer, super...more
Jon
While I am only 3/4 the way through, this is a fascinating book on PARC -- Palo Alto Research Center. PARC is the research lab for Xerox, which you may know was the dominant player in photocopier business back in the 60s and 70s.

Dealers of Lightning provides a fascinating history of the development of many everyday, common products -- the computer mouse, the personal computer, the word processor, windows GUI, and much more, which were all originally developed at PARC!

This books provides a rich...more
Dan Cohen
A good book that covers the technical, people, management and cultural sides of the Xerox PARC Alto / Star story in balance. I preferred the book to the much older "Fumbling the Future" because the latter focussed too much on the management side of things. In fact, I'm on the lookout now for an account that goes further towards the technical side, because "Dealers of Lightning", while better than "Fumbling the Future" in this regard, still comes up way short of what I'd have liked to see.

The boo...more
Aku
Excellent summary of how Xerox PARC came to be and how it changed the world forever in so many ways. Full of intricate characters and unexpected twists.

I'm pretty sure most people using computers have no idea where the desktop metaphor came from, or laser printers for that matter. It feels eerie that even iPad, introduced over a decade *after* this book was written! was anticipated in Kay's Notetaker. Both Apple and Microsoft owe heavily to Xerox PARC.
Josh
The Epilogue opens with "Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry today." They had the technology because they brought the best technological minds together and built the computer of the future. This book should be required reading for anyone who wants to lead organizations. Xerox had access to capital, a market base, and manufacturing capacity but their failure to execute was a colossal missed opportunity. It also shows how short sighted the executives of our era can be. Instead of l...more
Brian O'Callaghan
What an amazing tour through one of my favorite subjects.

Although some of the figures and history were known to me prior to reading the book, the tight, compelling narrative and medium-good technical depth made this book a true pleasure to read.

The author seemed forthcoming about the fact that his sources were biased and sometimes contradictory; I was left with the impression that he had done a good job sifting through the material and presenting it with an even hand. Of course, without having r...more
Eric Andresen
Excellent historical review of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Lots of people don't know that this is the birthplace of the Modern computer with the mouse, laser printers, windows icons and menus and Ethernet Networking.

Basically everything about the modern computer experience was invented by Xerox and sad as it may be they had no idea how to bring most of it to Market. It took Apple computers to later realize the Laser Printer and the Mac before most people could see this wonderful techno...more
Amar Pai
Wow I had no idea how much stuff originated from PARC.
-laser printers
-ethernet
-desktop computing w/ GUI - mouse, windowing, all that
-adobe
-3com
-SGI
-object oriented programming (smalltalk)
-probably more stuff I'm forgetting

Truly a remarkable place, and a tragic story for Xerox. Their clueless corporate management and stultifying resistance to change kept them from truly realizing the commercial potential for most of these things. They could have OWNED computing in the 90's and beyond. Instead th...more
Tony
The best way to know what the future holds is to invent it.

And these people did.

I've always been fascinated with the things they developed. This book provides an in-depth look at the personalities, the creations and the large number of companies which spun-off from this place. Xerox had no idea what they had, and they blew it. If not for the hidebound executives on the "other coast," they'd own the PC market today. The windowing user interface, ethernet, networked file and printer servers, laser...more
Unjmhy
And I thought the book on Steve Jobs was an entertaining read! The long list of innovations at PARC in the 1970's is stunning and captured my attention, making it a book I finished very quickly. Also, the author sheds light on why PARC was able to achieve what it did as well as provide a more reasonable perspective on why Xerox struggled to take advantage of PARC's innovations. The chapter on Steve Jobs visiting PARC gives a more believable account of what actually happened, instead of the simpl...more
Dav
I thought I knew most of this story, but really I just knew some of the major points. It is stunning how much innovation was first created by, or at least attempted by or related to, the brilliant maniacs who started up Xerox PARC. The lessons to be learned from this true tale of success, failure and all the human bickering in between are myriad and sobering. Almost every technologist I know should read this book, because anyone arrogant enough to think they can shape the future should be humble...more
Unnikrishnan
Anyone out there trying to innovate (real innovation not the build a simple website/app brigade), start a technology company or manage a research lab MUST read this book. The book demystifies the halo of Xerox PARC and lucidly details its dynamics of the lab right from its creation (which reminds one of the forming of heist teams in movies) to the invention of most of the ground breaking advances in CS & HCI (that we take it for granted today) to its eventual decline (an important lesson in...more
Norbert
The technical part and explanations of the different technologies invented in PALO ALTO are quite nice to read (for example the graphic interface or the laser printer), but I got bored of all the gossiping about internal politics in Xerox.
Speaking for myself, I found too many details about Xerox managers doing and saying in internal fights. Of course it explains the failure of Xerox to drive the innovation to their commercial products, but it was too much focused on persons, names and their pers...more
Joe
Read about Xerox PARC in various readings and always wondered why PARC developed various technologies that didn't get exploited by Xerox - now I know. Take-away seems to be that a company that has a long history is going to have difficulty changing its mindset and trying to start something that the company as a whole does not understand or know what to do with.

I learned a lot by reading this book but the flow of people's names throughout the stories left me confused. Maybe it's just me.
Davehedengren
A really interesting book detailing how a great team of employees can change the world even if the company they work for doesn't like their work.
Renny P
Very well written and captivating, which is impressive considering its length. I originally read it to understand how a corporatiin can fail to capitalize on proprietary technology that would later become standard technology. However, the book was more about the different employees that help develop these technologies and the politics that existed within the research center. Although it did not focus as much on what I expected, it was still a great read.
Christopher Eckman
Xerox PARC, in its early incarnation, was responsible for much of the computer technology still with us to this day (laser printer, WSYWIG, TCP/IP, Typesetting, etc). This is an account of the start and early years when many of the pioneers of the field worked there and about the adventures it had it trying to get its inventions to market.
A Cheung
A thorough account of characters and culture in the more adventurous era of computer history. PARC and this book certainly could become an icon of the computer industry itself. Tried to read this as a cultural account rather than a business case study, and can't help but fancy how it would be like if I could work there and that time.
Drew Weatherton
I listened to the audio version of this book which was, unfortunately abridged. I enjoyed the book and was surprised at how much was developed at Xerox Parc in the 70's and 80's. I wish there had been more about exactly HOW these technologies were developed, but maybe that was described in the unabridged print version of the book.
John
An interesting and well-paced history of the founding of Xerox PARC and its impact on the computer-centric world we live in today. I found it interesting to see the influence of the University of Utah on key research and researchers.

Note: This might be geek fare. I spent some time working in Silicon Valley.
Scattershot
Fascinating account of the development of computer technology at the Xerox Parc compound in the 70s and 80s. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in computers or collaborative brainstorming. The amount of brainpower that was employed at Parc during this time was amazing...and may never be seen again.
Mike Caudill
One of my favorite books ever. It's amazing what motivated people can do. This is where the real computer age began. A must for anybody who claims to be a computer nerd. I've read it at least 5 times and probably will read it next year.
Dennis Ross
Recommended by my good friend Dave Collins. This is an interesting history of a short critical period in the development of the PC. I was only a few miles away in Berkeley and only vaguely aware of what was happening.
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