Of Modes and Men

Cut-and-paste, the one-button mouse, WYSIWIG desktop publishing—these are just a few of the user interface innovations pioneered by Larry Tesler

20 min read
Photo of Larry Tesler.
Iconography: In 1973 Larry Tesler predicted that icons would replace the lists of names then typical of computer interfaces. Variants of the trash-can icon have since become ubiquitous
Photo: Brian Smale

Like Woody Allen’s 1983 movie character, Zelig, who appears at every significant historical event of his era, Larry Tesler has had a hand in major events making computer history during the past 30 years. When the first document-formatting software was developed at Stanford University in 1971, Tesler was coding it. When a secretary first cut and pasted some text on a computer screen at Xerox Corp.’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1973, Tesler was looking over her shoulder. When the first portable computer was turned on in an airport waiting area (and on an airplane), Tesler had his fingers on the keyboard. When Steve Jobs went to PARC in 1979 to see the legendary demo that is purported to have set the stage for a revolution in computing, Tesler had his hand on the mouse.

And when Apple Computer Inc.’s infamous Newton handheld computer failed spectacularly in the early 1990s, taking millions of dollars of investment and a few careers down with it, Tesler was there, too. Hey, nobody gets it right 100 percent of the time.

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