The Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center, known as Xerox PARC, had been established in 1970 to create a spawning ground for digital ideas.
It was safely located, for better and for worse, three thousand miles from the commercial pressures of Xerox corporate headquarters in Connecticut.
Among its visionaries was the scientist Alan Kay, who had two great maxims that Jobs embraced:
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it" and "People who are serious about software should make their own hardware."
Kay pushed the vision of a small personal computer, dubbed the "Dynabook," that would be easy enough for children to use.
So Xerox PARC's engineers began to develop user-friendly graphics that could replace all of the command lines and DOS prompts that made computer screens intimidating.
The metaphor they came up with was that of a desktop.
The screen could have many documents and folders on it, and you could use a mouse to point and click on the one you wanted to use.
This graphical user interface—or GUI, pronounced "gooey"—was facilitated by another concept pioneered at Xerox PARC: bitmapping.
Until then, most computers were character-based.
You would type a character on a keyboard, and the computer would generate that character on the screen, usually in glowing greenish phosphor against a dark background.
Since there were a limited number of letters, numerals, and symbols, it didn't take a whole lot of computer code or processing power to accomplish this.
In a bitmap system, on the other hand, each and every pixel on the screen is controlled by bits in the computer's memory.
To render something on the screen, such as a letter, the computer has to tell each pixel to be light or dark or, in the case of color displays, what color to be.
This uses a lot of computing power, but it permits gorgeous graphics, fonts, and gee-whiz screen displays.
Bitmapping and graphical interfaces became features of Xerox PARC's prototype computers, such as the Alto, and its object-oriented programming language, Smalltalk.
Jef Raskin decided that these features were the future of computing.
So he began urging Jobs and other Apple colleagues to go check out Xerox PARC.