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Jacob Goldman L and Edward Gelstorpe R in 1975Jacob Goldman L and Edward Gelstorpe R in 1975Jacob E. Goldman, Xerox’s chief scientist who founded the company’s now famous Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC), whose scientists and engineers invented the modern personal computer, died on Tuesday the 20th December 2011 in Westport, Connecticut, USA aged 90. Goldman’s son Melvin said that the cause was congestive heart failure.

During the late 1960s, Xerox, the dominant manufacturer of office copiers at the time, was searching for ways to move into new markets. Goldman a wealthy private investor who served on the board of Xerox proposed setting up an open-ended research laboratory to explore what Xerox’s CEO said at the time was “the architecture of information”. Computer systems were still not available in offices at that time, and little if anything was known about the shape of what we now term, “the office of the future.”

Goldman’s aim was to finance basic scientific research in an effort to spark corporate innovation.

When Xerox acquired Scientific Data Systems, a California computer maker, to compete with I.B.M. in the data-processing market computers were largely centralized systems that were not interactive. The minicomputer market was just being pioneered by the Digital Equipment Corporation.

Initially Xerox did not have any strategy for entering the computing business. It knew however that the data processing world might be both an opportunity and a potential threat.

Michael Hiltzik, author of “Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age.” said: ”Goldman was the one that made sure that Xerox understood there was a revolution coming behind them that might change their business.”

Established in 1970 in an industrial park next to Stanford, PARC researchers designed an amazing collection of computer technologies, including the Alto personal computer, the Ethernet office network, laser printing and the graphical user interface.

These new technologies would later be commercialized by many other companies particularly Apple and Microsoft. Xerox later was criticized for not capitalizing enough on the technologies it had pioneered.

Many years later, Goldman explained Xerox’s failure to enter the personal computing market early on as typical of large corporation’s unwillingness to take risks. His view was that unless companies such as Xerox could see that a new product would make a difference then they were not prepared to make the investment needed.

During an interview in 1988 with The New Haven Advocate he famously said:

“Look at the personal computer industry today. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry and we at Xerox could have had that industry to ourselves.”

Dr. Goldman is survived by his wife, Rhoda Miller Goldman; his children, Melvin, Edith and Beth; his stepsons, Shalom, Ari, and Dov; a sister, Judy Crystal; eight grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

May he R.I.P

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