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Larry Tesler, the UI pioneer who is responsible for cutting, copying and pasting, dies at the age of 74

Larry Tesler, a computer scientist who is known for creating the most important cut, copy and paste computer concepts, died on Monday at the age of 74.

Tesler was born in 1945 in New York and studied computer science at Stanford, according to Gizmodo. After working in AI research, he joined the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) at Xerox in 1973, where he developed cutting, copying and pasting. The concepts would later become instrumental building blocks for user interfaces for both text editors and complete computer operating systems.

PARC is best known for its early work on graphical user interfaces and how to navigate them with a mouse – and because Apple co-founder Steve Jobs saw this early research and used it as inspiration to develop better iterations of ideas for Apple products. Tesler was part of Jobs’s visits to Xerox, and he tells a few stories the video below:

Tesler was also a champion of a concept called “modeless” computing, which is the idea that a program should not have different “modes” where a user’s input does different things based on the mode you are in. Tesler’s personal website says he and a colleague, Tim Mott, developed the idea while working at PARC on the Gypsy text editor. Here is a 2019 video from Tesler demonstrating a gypsy:

Tesler strongly believed in modeless that the URL of his website is the website nomodes.com, and that website has a picture of what looks like the Tesler license plate, which says “NOMODES”.

Image: Larry Tesler

Tesler joined Apple in 1980 and worked with the company until 1997. He worked on a number of products, including the Macintosh, QuickTime, Lisa and the Newton tablet. (The Macintosh and Lisa were the first personal computers to make cutting, copying, and pasting popular, largely thanks to Tesler’s involvement.) In 1993, he held the position of chief scientist – a role that Steve Wozniak also fulfilled, according to Gizmodo.

After leaving Apple, Tesler worked at Stagecast, a startup of educational software spun from Apple, and also spent time at Amazon, Yahoo, and 23andMe. Since 2009, he has been a UX consultant based in California. You can read Tesler’s entire resume here and more about part of his work on his LinkedIn page.