I read yesterday that Larry Tesler had died at the age of 74. I had never heard of him but when I read the article I realized that I owed him a lot for the things he invented that have made using computers and especially word processing so much easier, because he created, among other things, the ‘cut and paste’ and ‘find and replace’ commands.
Xerox wrote on Twitter: “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.”
He specialised in user interface design and is most famous for devising the cut and paste command alongside his colleague Tim Mott at Parc. It updated the old method of editing in which people would physically cut portions of printed text and glue them elsewhere.
The command was incorporated into Apple’s software on the Lisa computer in 1983 and on the original Macintosh the following year.
A young Jobs visited Parc in 1974 and was shown around by Tesler. The scientist showed the future Apple boss the firm’s prototype Alto personal computer and 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, 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.
Word processing would be really tedious without those two sets of commands.
We take so much of modern technology for granted and begin to think that these things were either always there or somehow emerged from the ether and forget that there were some very talented people, often working in obscurity, who were farsighted enough to recognize a hitherto unnoticed need and were able to address it.