With Apple’s outright win in the trial Apple vs Samsung over trade dress (“cloning”) and patent issues, various people have argued the importance of copying in the development of user interface, citing Apple’s copying of the Xerox Alto user interface.
I came across two articles, explaining that there were substantial differences between Xerox and Apple’s graphical interfaces. The story of Apple’s copying appears to be in many ways a well-known myth.
Apple employees had visited the research labs twice, which is a very limited amount of exposure time for substantial copying to take place. Xerox accept shares of Apple in exchange for the visits. Apple was already at work on bitmapped user interfaces including multiple fonts and graphical capabilities. The Mac and Lisa projects actually predated the visits. Engineers Bill Atkinson and Jef Raskin had known of work at Xerox or interned there.
In addition, Apple’s graphical interfaces sported a number of improvements.
- Direct manipulation. A click on an object resulted in menu appearing.
- Drag and Drop
- Overlapping windows
- Automatic repaints. Alto required a click for the window to redraw itself.
Some inventions such as the mouse were already known prior to the visit and underwent substantial improvements before commercialization.