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Larry Tesler, Apple employee who created cut-and-paste, dies at 74

Computer scientist led Apple on the famous tours of Xerox PARC, where Steve Jobs was exposed to ideas for the Mac's graphical user interface.

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Larry Tesler, an early figure at Apple, has died.

Dan Farber/CNET

Computer scientist and user interface guru Larry Tesler, a key figure at Apple during its early years, died Monday at the age of 74, according to Apple Insider.

Tesler pioneered the concept of "cut-copy-paste" during his time at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in the 1970s. In the following two decades at Apple, he would be deeply involved in the user interface design of the Lisa, Macintosh and Newton, a precursor to the iPhone.

In 1979, Tesler was assigned to show Apple co-founder Steve Jobs around Xerox PARC, including the tour in which Jobs and a few other Apple employees got to see Xerox's Alto computer in action. The computer featured icons, windows, folders, a mouse, pop-up menus, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) text editor, Ethernet-based local networking and network-based printing and games. The concept of "cut, copy and paste" was also part of the demonstration.

"Steve was very excited and was pacing around the room, and occasionally looking at the screen," Tesler said in 2011 at a Churchill Club event in San Jose, California. He recalled Jobs' reaction as he led them on the product tour. "'You are sitting on a goldmine. Why aren't you doing something with this technology... you could change this world.' It was clear to him that Xerox was never going to do the kind of revolution things he was envisioning."

The result of the meeting was that Apple got to see the graphical user interface (GUI) that ended up making it into the Mac OS. Jobs also persuaded Tesler to leave Xerox to go work for Apple the following year, managing the Lisa applications team.

As Tesler also explained in 2011, the fact that the meeting even got that far can largely be traced back to a deal made by Xerox's business development team, who at the time was eyeballing Apple as a source of cheap hardware production.

"Xerox was facing a lot of competition from Asian companies and copiers when their patents expired. They had higher production costs. But at the same time they had PARC inventions like the GUI, Ethernet, and improved mice," Tesler said at a 2011 remembrance for Jobs. "They started worrying they wouldn't be able to build them fast enough. They looked at Apple pumping out Apple IIs for real cheap, and thought 'we should partner with Apple so they can make computers really cheap for us.'"

Tesler left Apple in 1997, moving on to serve as vice president of the shopping experience at Amazon and later, as head of user experience design and research at Yahoo. After he left Yahoo, he briefly worked for 23andMe. His LinkedIn profile says he's been a semi-retired consultant living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The cause of his death wasn't immediately available. 

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.