Chuck Thacker, Developer Of The Xerox Alto Personal Computer, Dies at 74
Joseph F. Kovar
One of the great pioneers of the computer age, credited with designing the first personal computer, has died at the age of 74.
Charles Thacker, who built the first personal computer while a member of the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (Xerox PARC), passed away on Monday. He died at home from complications of esophageal cancer, according to his obituary in The New York Times.
Xerox PARC was founded in 1970 as Xerox's way to fund more future-oriented research separately from its existing R&D department. The organization is credited with the development of the laser printer, mouse, Ethernet, and the Xerox Alto.
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Thacker spent much of the 1970s and 1980s at Xerox PARC where he led the project that developed the Xerox Alto, a revolutionary computer that featured such innovations as a graphical user interface, a mouse, networking, removable storage, and a WYSIWYG, or what-you-see-is-what-you-get monitor.
Unfortunately, the Xerox Alto, which was first built in 1973, was ahead of its time. According to the Computer History Museum, Thacker later recalled that the first Xerox Alto cost $12,000 to build, and would have probably been priced at $40,000 if it had gone on sale to the public.
However, while Xerox was unable to commercialize the successful development of what would later be known as personal computers, others were. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, saw a demonstration of the Xerox Alto and decided to re-align Apple's development strategy to take advantage of some of the then-futuristic features.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates also credits the Xerox Alto for inspiring what eventually became Microsoft Windows.
Thacker was also a co-inventor of Ethernet networking, which was developed as a way to network multiple Xerox Altos. He also contributed to the development of laser printers.
Among Thacker's other accomplishments outside of Xerox PARC was the development of the hardware for Microsoft's original line of tablet PCs, based on work he did while at Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC.