Xerox, arguably one of the most forward-thinking yet backwards-in-implementing companies in technology, has been acquired by Fujifilm in a deal valued at £4.28 billion and which will see the Xerox brand retired in favour of the double-barrel Fuji Xerox.

Founded in 1906 as the Haloid Photographic Company, Xerox's big break came around when the founder's son, Joseph C. Wilson, took control of the firm and ploughed the company's money into a 1938 invention by Chester Carlson for printing images using electrically-charged metal plates and powered toner. Dubbed 'xerography' - 'dry writing' - the technology proved so popular Haloid Photography would become Haloid Xerox in 1958 then Xerox Corporation in 1961. Following the launch of the xerography-based Xerox 914 photocopier in 1961, described as 'the most successful single product of all time,' the 'Xerox' brand would become synonymous with photocopying and, later, laser printing.

It was the founding of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) in 1970, though, where the Xerox story really got interesting. Engineers working at Xerox PARC independently invented many of the technologies taken for granted in computing today: the graphical user interface (GUI), what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) document editing, laser printing, and the Ethernet networking standard. Sadly, Xerox as a company was seemingly blinded by the success of its photocopying products and squandered what could have been the biggest first-mover advantage in history: While the technologies were fully implemented in the Xerox Alto workstation in 1973, the company failed to launch them in volume commercially - allowing a certain Steve Jobs, having offered Xerox's venture capital division $1 million in exchange for a question-and-answer session with PARC engineers on the technologies they had been developing, to launch the Alto-inspired Apple Lisa and Apple Macintosh in 1983 and 1984 respectively to critical acclaim.

Xerox never fully recovered from allowing Apple to capture what should have been a Xerox-led market, and in recent years has been struggling financially. Having sold off the majority of its acquisitions and outsourced engineering work from the UK and Europe to India, the company has entered into a final deal to keep the lights on: an acquisition by Fujifilm which will see the Xerox brand play second-fiddle as an element wrapped up into the two companies' previously-launched Fuji Xerox joint venture.

'The proposed combination has compelling industrial logic and will unlock significant growth and productivity opportunities for the combined company, while delivering substantial value to Xerox shareholders,' claims Jeff Jacobson, Xerox chief executive officer, of the deal. 'The new Fuji Xerox will be better positioned to compete in today’s environment with truly global scale, increased presence in fast-growing markets, and innovation capabilities to effectively meet our customers’ rapidly-evolving demands. In addition, the combined company’s strong financial profile will enable investments that support continued market leadership, while also providing opportunities for increasing capital returns over time.'

The acquisition is valued at around £4.28 billion, and forms a combined company with an annual revenue of around £12.64 billion.

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October 14 2021 | 15:04