Larry Tesler, a pioneer of personal computing credited with creating the cut, copy, and paste as well as the search and replace functions, has died at the age of 74 on Monday in San Francisco.
His name may not be well known outside Silicon Valley, but his work has saved countless student essays and work emails. Tributes were paid on social media to the Silicon Valley veteran, who was key to making computers more accessible and intuitive from the 1960s onwards.
The death of Lawrence “Larry” Tesler was announced on Twitter on Wednesday by Xerox, where he spent part of his career. “The inventor of cut/copy & paste, find & replace, and more was former Xerox researcher Larry Tesler,” the company said.
“Your workday is easier thanks to his revolutionary ideas. Larry passed away Monday, so please join us in celebrating him.”
In addition to his work with cut, copy and paste, Tesler was often credited with coining the term “user-friendly,” and was also connected to the phrase “What you see is what you get,” also known as “WSYWIG,” to describe how PCs should work.
A graduate of Stanford University, Tesler specialized in human-computer interaction, employing his skills at Amazon, Apple, Yahoo, and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
Cut, copy and paste and search and replace functions are used millions of times a day without users thinking twice about how they were developed or by whom.
But before Tesler’s work, computer users had to interact with clunky programs in different “modes,” where the same commands meant different things depending on how they were used. Even an expert like Tesler found that to be a problem.
The cut and paste commands were reportedly inspired by old-fashioned editing that involved actually cutting portions of printed text and affixing them elsewhere with adhesive.
The elimination of modes opened the door to how computer users have interacted with personal computers for the last 40 years. Much of that work was done not at one of today’s tech giants, but a computer lab at Xerox.
The command was made popular by Apple after being incorporated in software on the Lisa computer in 1983 and the original Macintosh that debuted the next year.
One of his strongest principles was that computer systems should stop using “modes,” which allow users to switch between functions on software and apps but make computers time-consuming and complicated. His website was even called “nomodes.com,” his Twitter handle was “@nomodes,” and his car registration plate also read “No Modes.”
Tesler worked for Apple in 1980 after being recruited from Xerox by late co-founder Steve Jobs. He spent 17 years at Apple, rising to the chief scientist. He went on to establish an education startup and did stints in user-experience technology at Amazon and Yahoo.