Creator of copy and paste command, Larry Tesler, dies aged 74
Scientist copied the printing technique of physically cutting and glueing printed text
Tributes have been paid to Larry Tesler, the computer scientist who introduced the cut, copy and paste commands, after his death at age 74. The Stanford University graduate, who was a pioneer of early computing, died on Monday in San Francisco.
He worked for blue-chip firms including Apple, Amazon and Yahoo. Tesler appropriately began his Silicon Valley career at photocopying company Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (Parc) before being recruited by Apple’s founder, Steve Jobs.
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.”
Tesler worked at Apple for 17 years and rose through the ranks to become chief scientist.
The scientist was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1945, and worked in the genesis stage of computers in the 1960s, aiming to make them more accessible and intuitive.
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.
Silicon Valley’s Computer History Museum said Tesler “combined computer science training with a counterculture vision that computers should be for everyone”.
One of his strongest principles was that computer systems should stop using “modes”, which allow users to switch between functions on software and apps but make computers time-consuming and complicated. His website was even called “nomodes.com”, his Twitter handle was “@nomodes”, and his car registration plate also read “No Modes”.
In a 2012 interview with the BBC, he spoke of the culture at Silicon Valley. He said: “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.”
2020 Guardian News & Media