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Explained: Who was Larry Tesler, the inventor of the cut, copy, paste command?

Larry Tesler, the computer scientist who invented the “cut, copy, paste” command, died Monday in San Francisco. He was 74.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Published: February 21, 2020 2:15:12 pm
Explained: Who was Larry Tesler, the inventor of the cut, copy, paste command? In this 1970s photo provided by Xerox PARC, Larry Tesler uses the Xerox Parc Alto early personal computer system. (Xerox PARC via AP)

Larry Tesler, the computer scientist who invented the “cut, copy, paste” command, died Monday in San Francisco. He was 74. Tesler graduated from Stanford University with a degree in science and mathematics (computer science division) in 1965. In 2009 he was granted the John McCarthy Award for Excellence in Research and Research Environments.

Who was Larry Tesler?

On his website, Tesler described himself as the “primary inventor” of modeless editing and cut, copy, paste. He had 29 years of experience in building and managing teams of software and hardware engineers, designers, scientists, product managers and marketers to deliver innovative, customer-centered products. Over the duration of his career, Tesler worked for Amazon, Xerox PARC, Yahoo and Apple — he worked at Apple for 17 years.

Xerox posted on Twitter on Thursday, “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 passed away Monday, so please join us in celebrating him.”

The term “friendly user interface” is attributed to Tesler as well. The first known usage of the term was in a paper titled “The Office of the Future” published in Business Week in 1975. However, as per Tesler, the usage of the more commonly used phrase “user friendly” preceded the 1975 publication.

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Tesler also claimed he coined the word “browser” in 1976, to mean a point-and-click information navigation window, and the word “modeless” around 1970, which means a user interface in which the user is never “stuck” in a mode. In fact, his business website and Twitter handle are both called “nomodes”.

Explained: Who was Larry Tesler, the inventor of the cut, copy, paste command? On his website, Larry Tesler described himself as the “primary inventor” of modeless editing and cut, copy, paste.

In an article titled “Networked Computing in the 1990s”, published in the Scientific American in 1991, Tesler wrote about the “four paradigms” of computing, from the time when in the 1960s, computers were used by experts to calculate, in the 70s by specialists to access, in the 80s by individuals to present and in the 90s by groups to communicate. “It is generally believed, for example, that the computer will come to play a much more active role by collaborating with the user,” he wrote.

“The user, moving from office to car to meetings, might give an electronic agent the following tasks:

  • On what date in February did I record a phone conversation with Sam?
  • Make me an appointment at a tire shop that is on my way home and is open after 6pm…”

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