What happened to Xerox?

Xerox is an American corporation selling print and digital document products in 160 countries around the world. The company was founded in 1906 by Joseph C. Wilson and Chester Carlson. Xerox was visited by Steve Jobs in 1979 who gained access to PARC in exchange for Xerox receiving shares in Apple. He then purchased the rights to a Xerox GUI and used it to produce the Apple Macintosh. Xerox myopic focus on its photocopier business, an organization skewed toward sales and marketing, and that might have lost the focus on product slowly lost its market leadership.


Introduction of XeroxXerox Corporation, commonly known as Xerox, was founded in 1906 as The Haloid Photographic Company. It initially specialized in photography-related products but later gained prominence in the document technology and services industry. Xerox is widely recognized for its pioneering role in photocopiers and the development of the modern workplace printer. The Xerox name became synonymous with photocopying, and its products revolutionized document reproduction and office workflows.
Invention of the Xerography ProcessXerox’s pivotal moment came in 1959 when its research team, led by Chester Carlson, introduced the xerography process. This revolutionary technology made high-quality, rapid photocopying possible. The first commercial photocopier, the Xerox 914, was introduced in 1960. This machine’s success marked the beginning of Xerox’s transformation into an industry leader in office automation and document management. The xerography process became the foundation for future innovations in the copying and printing industry.
Dominance in the Copier MarketThroughout the 1960s and 1970s, Xerox dominated the photocopier market. The company’s photocopiers were known for their reliability and quality, and the term “Xerox” became synonymous with making photocopies. This period of market dominance allowed Xerox to amass significant market share and profitability. Its products were widely adopted by businesses and institutions worldwide, reshaping the way documents were duplicated and distributed.
Missed Opportunities in ComputingWhile Xerox excelled in the copier industry, it missed significant opportunities in the emerging computer technology sector. Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) made groundbreaking contributions to personal computing, including the development of the graphical user interface (GUI), Ethernet networking, and the mouse. However, Xerox was unable to capitalize on these innovations. In the 1970s, Xerox introduced the Xerox Alto, one of the earliest personal computers with a GUI, but it did not commercialize the product effectively. Apple’s Steve Jobs famously visited Xerox PARC and incorporated many of its ideas into the Macintosh computer, contributing to Apple’s success. Xerox’s failure to leverage its own innovations in personal computing limited its growth in this burgeoning market.
Challenges and CompetitorsBy the late 1970s and early 1980s, Xerox faced increased competition in the copier industry, with rivals like Canon and Ricoh gaining ground. Additionally, the company’s management structure and conservative corporate culture hindered innovation and responsiveness to changing market dynamics. Xerox struggled to adapt to the evolving needs of customers and the industry’s shift toward networked and digital document solutions. The rise of desktop publishing and laser printers presented new challenges, and Xerox found it difficult to regain its competitive edge.
Restructuring and TransformationIn response to its challenges, Xerox initiated a series of restructuring efforts in the late 1990s and early 2000s. These efforts included layoffs, divestitures, and a refocus on its core business: document technology and services. Xerox also entered into partnerships and acquisitions to expand its offerings. The company successfully transitioned to digital document solutions and managed print services, aiming to provide comprehensive document management solutions to businesses. These strategic moves helped stabilize Xerox’s financial position and market presence.
Legacy and Ongoing BusinessDespite its challenges, Xerox remains a significant player in the document technology industry. It has continued to evolve its product and service offerings, embracing cloud-based solutions, managed print services, and digital transformation initiatives. Xerox’s legacy in photocopying and document management endures, and its name remains synonymous with the concept of photocopying. The company’s ability to adapt and innovate in response to changing technological landscapes has allowed it to maintain a presence in the competitive document solutions market.


Xerox is an American corporation selling print and digital document products in 160 countries around the world.

The company was founded in 1906 by Joseph C. Wilson and Chester Carlson.

Carlson invented a process known as xerography in 1938 where photographic copies of documents could be made onto plain paper.

As the first company to obtain the commercial rights to xerography in 1947, Xerox photocopiers would become a flagship product for decades 

Xerox also invented the personalized computer based on the idea of mimicking a typical office desk.

The Xerox Alto was released in March 1973 and was the first computer to support an operating system based on a graphical user interface. 

History will show that Xerox squandered its first-mover advantage in personal computing.

The company practically invented digital communication but failed to realize the full potential of its technology. 

With all of that said, let’s take a look at the Xerox story detailing its missed opportunities.

Collaboration with Steve Jobs

Xerox founded the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1970. It was here that the Xero Alto was developed alongside innovations such as the laser printer, word-processing machine, and Ethernet networking technology.

In 1979, a young Steve Jobs gained access to the research center with Xero receiving Apple shares in return.

Jobs immediately saw the commercial potential of the WIMP (Window, Icon, Menu, and Pointing device) system and later remarked that Xerox had no idea how much commercial potential its products had.

Jobs then incorporate the WIMP system into the Apple Lisa desktop computer and invited several PARC researchers to join his company. 

Xerox Star vs. Apple Macintosh

In 1981, the Xerox Star was released as a successor to the Alto. It was the first computer to incorporate file servers, Ethernet networking, print servers, and e-mail, among other features.

However, it was priced at $16,000 with a full Xerox Star-based office installation costing as much as $100,000.

By comparison, an IBM machine of the time retailed for a tenth of the price while a Commodore VIC-20 cost only $300.

The Star did little more than automate secretarial work and it would be years before advances in software and hardware technology-enabled Xero’s original vision to be realized.

Apple then purchased the rights to the Alto GUI and incorporated it into the Apple Macintosh. When the Macintosh was released in 1984, it was the first computer with a GUI and mouse that was commercially successful.

Innovation and the core business model

Despite having the expertise and necessary componentry to revolutionize digital computing, Xerox maintained an almost myopic focus on its photocopier business.

Indeed, Xerox executives were commonly referred to as “toner heads” since they could not see any commercial value in the company’s non-printing or photocopying assets. In 1985, then-CEO David Kearns stated that the future of Xerox was in copy machines. This was an odd statement considering the company was decades ahead of its competitors in developing computers.

To some extent, the attitude of Xerox management was not helped by how much money the company was making from copiers and high-end printers. Sales commissions for selling million-dollar laser printers to enterprise clients were much higher than a personal workstation worth just a few thousand dollars.

A lack of a forward-thinking strategy also ensured the company could not bridge the gap between emerging technologies and commercialization. While Xerox remains a multi-billion dollar company today, it does not have the pedigree of innovators like Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, or Microsoft. 

Key takeaways:

  • Xerox is an American corporation selling print and digital document products and services worldwide. The company failed to capitalize on revolutionary research performed at its PARC R&D center. 
  • Xerox was visited by Steve Jobs in 1979 who gained access to PARC in exchange for Xerox receiving shares in Apple. He then purchased the rights to a Xerox GUI and used it to produce the Apple Macintosh.
  • Xerox released the Xerox Star personal computer in 1981 in a rare example of the company selling an innovative product commercially. However, the Star was prohibitively expensive, targeted the wrong market, and was a decade ahead of its time.

Key Highlights:

  • Xerox is an American corporation known for selling print and digital document products globally.
  • The company was founded in 1906 and was the first to obtain commercial rights to xerography, leading to the popularity of Xerox photocopiers for many years.
  • Xerox also played a significant role in early personal computing, inventing the Xerox Alto and developing innovations like the graphical user interface (GUI) at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
  • In 1979, Steve Jobs visited PARC and gained access to its innovations, leading to the incorporation of GUI into Apple products like the Apple Lisa and Macintosh.
  • Xerox released the Xerox Star computer in 1981, which was technologically advanced but too expensive and targeted at the wrong market, resulting in commercial failure.
  • Despite having the potential for groundbreaking innovation, Xerox’s management remained focused on its photocopier business, missing opportunities to capitalize on its advanced computing technologies.
  • Xerox’s failure to adopt a forward-thinking strategy and commercialize emerging technologies prevented it from achieving the status of innovative giants like Apple, Alphabet, Amazon, or Microsoft.

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