Larry Tesler cut and pasted from this mortal coil: That thing you just did? He probably invented it

PARC, Apple and Amazon – computing pioneer dies at 74

Apple Newton MessagePad

Obit Larry Tesler – self-described "primary inventor of modeless editing and cut, copy, paste" – has died at the age of 74.

Tesler had a hand in many of the computing concepts taken for granted today. On his website he wrote: "I have been mistakenly identified as 'the father of the graphical user interface for the Macintosh'. I was not. However, a paternity test might expose me as one of its many grandparents."

After a stint at Stanford culminating in AI research in 1973, Tesler became a member of the research staff at Xerox's famed Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

There, thanks to his intense dislike of operation modes of the era, he conceived and implemented many graphical user interface (GUI) features taken for granted today.

Tesler was very keen on "modeless" software, where a user would not have to, for example, use a keyboard to switch to a command mode before switching back to edit text. Tesler's vision was that a user's action should have a consistent effect – there should be no "modes."

It is therefore unsurprising that while at Xerox PARC he laid claim to coming up with the ability to point and click to insert or overwrite text without needing to enter a mode. Entering a mode was also not required for the cut, copy and paste operations.

Apple snapped him up in 1980 and during his time at the firm he rose to vice president and chief scientist. He worked on user interface design and software engineering for the Lisa application API and led development of the first commercial object-orientated frameworks. He was also a voice of support of the spinout of Arm from Acorn (see below) and would go on to serve on Arm's board for 13 years.

Not mentioned on his CV was his involvement in Apple's personal digital assistant (PDA) Newton project, which Tesler took over in 1990 and set in motion events that would see the Arm dominance of today. The low power consumption of the silicon while idle appealed, as did its ability not to hammer the battery of the doomed handheld while running. The Newton, or MessagePad as it was eventually branded, launched in 1993, resplendent in a case designed by a young Jony Ive.

While innovative, the PDA did not set the market on fire and, despite updates, was eventually killed off in 1998, shortly after the return of Steve Jobs to Apple.

By then Tesler had moved on, putting four years into an educational software startup called Stagecast then to Amazon in 2001 and creating the usability group as well as managing data mining and market research to give Bezos' brigade a more effective insight in customers.

Between 2005 and 2008 he was VP of user experience and design at Yahoo! before a year-long stint as a product fellow at genetic testing outfit 23andMe. He rounded out his career as a technology consultant specialising in user experience management, research and design.

While Tesler's name may not have the fame (or infamy) of Jobs (or even Ive) his impact, his work from the earliest free-wheeling days of computing through to projects like the MessagePad continue to be felt today. ®

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