SAN JOSE — A division of Xerox Corp., which invented easy-to-use personal computer tricks but never capitalized on them, on Thursday introduced software to improve popular Windows PC features.
The XSoft product, Rooms for Windows, ironically elevates a technology that Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) developed in the 1970s, only to see Apple Computer Inc. and Microsoft Corp. profit from the idea.
"The people at PARC have kind of been the Rodney Dangerfields of the industry," said Dan Ness, a market research analyst with Computer Intelligence in La Jolla. "They're great guys who are really smart, but they spent too much time in a lab and lost a lot of opportunities."
Last week, Xerox PARC broke out of the lab with the introduction of a software product called PaperWorks, which for the first time makes paper an interactive part of PCs. People can use a facsimile machine to fax their PCs instructions, to retrieve, distribute or store documents, for example.
The newest PARC-born product, Rooms for Windows, is one of several "shell" software packages on the market that improves performance of Windows, which now runs on about 9 million IBM-compatible machines.
Microsoft's Windows is a "graphic interface" that lets people use on-screen "icons," or symbols, and a "mouse," or hand-held control device, to command PCs. Without Windows, users must type in technical commands to operate the underlying DOS operating software that controls the PC. But even with Windows, PC users can't easily work on more than one thing at a time.
"Today's user interfaces do not address a fundamental issue: People work on projects and tasks, not just single applications like word processing, spreadsheets or graphics," said Stuart Card, a Xerox scientist and cognitive psychologist. "In our research, we found that what people really need to get work done is a desk the size of a dining room table. Or, better yet, several desks, each devoted to a particular task."
The Rooms for Windows lets PC users work on different applications on separate projects at the same time. Each "room" contains several windows and functions like a separate computer monitor.
"I have 12 rooms on my PC so I go from thing to thing like you would on a real desk," said Andy Seybold, editor of The Outlook on Professional Computing of Brookdale, Calif. "It's a great productivity tool."
The $99 Rooms for Windows requires a PC equipped for Microsoft Windows 3.0 or 3.1 and at least a 286-based Intel Corp. microprocessor.