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Computer Scientist Behind Cut, Copy And Paste Dies Aged 74

By 4th March 2020Blog3 min read

Larry Tesler, the computer scientist and icon of early computing has died at the age of 74, reports The Guardian. Mr Tesler began work in Silicon Valley in the early 1960s, an age when computers were inaccessible to most people.

It was due to his innovations that the personal computer became commonplace, and was easier to learn and use. He is most well known for being the inventor of the ‘cut’, ‘copy’, and ‘paste’ commands that are now used worldwide in every industry.

Xerox, the company where Mr Tesler spent part of his career, paid tribute to him in a tweet: “The inventor of cut/copy & paste, find & replace, and more, was former Xerox researcher Larry Tesler. Your workday is easier thanks to his revolutionary ideas.”

Larry Tesler was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1945, and studied at Stamford University in California. After graduating, he specialised in user interface design, what is now known as UI, making computer systems more user-friendly.

His long career included working for several major technology firms. He began at Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (Parc), before being poached by Steve Jobs for Apple, where he spent 17 years and climbed the ranks to become chief scientist. After leaving Apple, he worked for Amazon and Yahoo for brief periods, as well as setting up an education start-up.

A young Steve Jobs visited Parc in 1974 and was shown the Xerox prototype Alto personal computer by Mr Tesler, who moved the cursor across the screen with the aid of a “mouse”. Whereas directing a computer had previously meant typing a command on the keyboard, Mr Tesler just clicked on one of the icons on the screen.

He recalled: “Steve started jumping around the room, shouting, ‘Why aren’t you doing anything with this? This is the greatest thing. This is revolutionary!’” He also introduced the scroll bar on the Macintosh computer.

In 2012, he told the BBC of Silicon Valley: “There’s almost a rite of passage – after you’ve made some money, you don’t just retire, you spend your time funding other companies. There’s a very strong element of excitement, of being able to share what you’ve learned with the next generation.”

The cut and paste command, possibly Mr Tesler’s most famous innovation, was reportedly based on the physical act of cutting out portions of printed text to be glued elsewhere. The commands were integrated into the software on Apple’s Lisa computer in 1983, and the original Macintosh computer that was released in 1984

He held firm beliefs that computer systems should stop using ‘modes’, which were common in computer software design at the tome. Modes allow users to switch functions on software and applications but had the drawback of being time-consuming and complicated. His website was called ‘nomodes.com’, he had the Twitter handle ‘@nomodes’, and even his car’s registration plate was ‘No Modes’.

Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum said Mr Tesler “combined computer science training with a counterculture vision that computers should be for everyone”.

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