Scientist copied the printing technique of physically cutting and glueing printed text
Larry Tesler, the computer scientist who introduced the cut, copy and paste commands, passed away at the age 74. The Stanford University graduate, who was a pioneer of early computing, died on Monday in San Francisco.
He worked for blue-chip firms including Apple, Amazon and Yahoo. Tesler appropriately began his Silicon Valley career at photocopying company Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (Parc) before being recruited by Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs.
Tesler was not nearly as well known as computing giants such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. But he played an early, central role in making computers accessible to people without computer engineering degrees.
Xerox (XRX), the company for whom he developed the functions, tweeted out news of his death. “Your workday is easier thanks to his revolutionary ideas,” the company’s tweet said.
Cut, copy and paste and search and replace functions are used millions of times a day without users thinking twice about how they were developed or by whom.
But before Tesler’s work, computer users had to interact with clunky programs in different “modes,” where the same commands meant different things depending on how they were used. Even an expert like Tesler found that to be a problem.
“Most interactive programs had modes, which always tripped me up,” he wrote in a 2012 paper about the development of copy, cut and paste. Tesler became a champion of eliminating modes from computer programs. His personal web site was nomodes.com.
The elimination of modes opened the door to how computer users have interacted with personal computers for the last 40 years. Much of that work was done not at one of today’s tech giants, but at a computer lab at Xerox.
Today most people know Xerox only as a maker of copiers, but in its heyday the company developed much of the technology that led to the personal computer: the mouse, a graphical user interface that allowed for more than lines of text on a screen. The work was done at the company’s Silicon Valley-based Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or Xerox PARC.
Tesler was at the center of those efforts, and is credited with coining the terms “friendly user interface” and “browser” during his time at Xerox.
When Jobs visited Xerox PARC in 1979, he met with Tesler. “You’re sitting on a gold mine!” Tesler later recalled Jobs telling him. “Why aren’t you doing something with this technology? You could change the world!”