Tesler grew up in New York City and graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1961. He went on to Stanford University, where he studied computer science in the 1960s, and worked for a time at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. With Horace Enea, he designed Compel, an early single assignment language. This functional programming language was intended to make concurrent processing more natural and was used to introduce programming concepts to beginners.
In the late 60s, he got involved in the Midpeninsula Free University, where he delivered classes about topics like How to end the IBM Monopoly, Computers Now and Procrastination. From 1973 to 1980, he worked at Xerox PARC, where, among other things, he worked on the Gypsy word processor and Smalltalk. Copy and paste was first implemented in 1973-1976 by Tesler and Tim Mott, while they were working on Gypsy for Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.
In 1980, Tesler moved to Apple Computer, where he held various positions, including Vice President of AppleNet, Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group, and Chief Scientist. He worked on the Lisa team, and was enthusiastic about the development of the Macintosh as the successor to the Lisa. In 1985, Tesler worked with Niklaus Wirth on adding object-oriented language extensions to the Pascal programming language, calling the new language Object Pascal. He was also involved in the development of the MacApp, one of the first class libraries for application development. Eventually, these two technologies became Apple products.
Starting in 1990, Tesler led the efforts of developing the Apple Newton, initially as Vice President of the Advanced Development Group, and then as Vice President of the Personal Interactive Electronics division.
In 1991, he contributed the article "Networked Computing in the 1990s" to Scientific American Special Issue on Communications, Computers, and Networks, September, 1991.
Tesler left Apple in 1997 to co-found Stagecast Software, which allowed him to 'use' his enthusiasm for kids' programming and use of computers, an enthusiasm he acquired mainly at Xerox PARC, where he worked in Alan Kay's Learning Research Group.
Tesler joined Amazon in 2001; in 2004, he became the company's Vice President of Shopping Experience. In 2005, he joined Yahoo! as Vice President of Yahoo!'s User Experience and Design group.
In November 2008, he left Yahoo to join personal genetics information company 23andMe, as Product Fellow. Since December 2009, he has been an independent consultant.
Tesler has a strong preference for modeless software, in which a user's action has a consistent effect, rather than changing its meaning depending on previous actions, as in the vi text editor . His Gypsy editor, for example, provided a 'click and type' interface in which the user could, at any time, enter text at the current insertion point, or click where the insertion point should be repositioned. Previously, most editors used the keyboard to enter text or to issue commands, depending on the current mode. To promote his preference, as of 2010, Tesler equipped his Subaru automobile with a personalized California license plate with the license number "NO MODES". Along with others, he has also been using the phrase "Don't Mode Me In" for years, as a rally cry to eliminate or reduce modes.
- Tesler, L. G.; Horace Enea (April 1968). "A language design for concurrent processes". AFIPS '68 (Spring) Proceedings of the April 30--May 2, 1968, spring joint computer conference: 403–408.
- Wolpman, Jim. "Alive in the 60s: The Midpeninsula Free University". Retrieved 17 December 2013.
- Tesler, Larry (July–August 2012). "A Personal History of Modeless Text Editing and Cut/Copy-Paste". Interactions 19 (4): 70–75.
- Larry Tesler personal home page, CV
- Crotty, Cameron (July 1, 1996). "Tesler attacks Internet (Apple VP Larry Tesler speaks at Worldwide Developers Conference about Apple's Internet strategy)".
- "Yahoo! Appoints Larry Tesler Head of User Experience and Design".
- Origins of the Apple Human Interface at the Wayback Machine (archived May 11, 2004) by Larry Tesler, Chris Espinosa
- Larry Tesler home page
- Publications by Larry Tesler from Interaction-Design.org
- Computer History Museum, Larry Tesler Oral History Interview
- 1999 Lecture on Novice Programming