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The Xerox Alto Struts Its Stuff on Its 40th Birthday (ieee.org)
112 points by teklaperry on Nov 15, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

These things are great. There was a little kid playing on one at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle, where they've got a couple networked together - he had no trouble operating it.

That place is worth a visit if you have a chance - they've got working machines going back to the 50s that you can play around with.

Seconded, that place is incredible and anyone with a tangential interest in computers should do themselves a favor and check it out.

Not to get too far off track, but I'm heading there tomorrow and the Alto is at the top of the list of computers to check out followed by the PDP-10. As someone who came into the industry way after these devices were in use, I'm pretty excited to check them out.

Very cool, when I last went they had someone hacking on an FPGA to emulate one of the disks in one of those so they could keep it up and running.

The PDP-10, sadly, isn't on display at the moment (or wasn't as of the night of the talk).

There is, however, a rarer PDP-1

There is lots of Alto restoration info (and videos) here: http://www.righto.com/ https://www.youtube.com/user/mverdiell/videos

Indeed, this sounds like the Alto that Ken Shirriff (author of the right.com posts), Marc Verdiell, Carl Claunch and Luca Severini have been working on, though no explicit mention in the article.

> These demos used an Alto that had been restored to working order over the past eight months.

Correction: "righto.com"

The greatest engineering creates a blank canvas. Modern devices are all about possibility, what does technology allow you to do? And on a deeper level, what does technology allow you to become?

I've always been fascinated by the Alto, and the people who designed and built it, and how many of them went on to help make the Macintosh successful. And by how much work it took to make the Mac actually work.

The Alto had to be one of the greatest design prototypes ever made. It wasn't ever made for sale, AFAIK, even though supposedly hundreds got shared with universities. But they built over a thousand and actually used them on an actual network. Every part of the system was continually developed in real world use.

Even so, the performance, cost, and other rough edged impediments were too far away to commercialize it. The Star and the Lisa were failures.

The Mac team had to hand code high performance graphic algorithms to get a GUI running in 128k, and a cheap one button mouse so they could make an affordable GUI computer for the masses. They had to come up with the Finder, the Desktop and Trashcan so that users never had to be exposed to a CLI. Even Bill Atkinsons invention of regions might have been key to making the Mac UI expressive enough to succeed with the general population.


This was a fantastic event and it was truly an honor to be there!

If you haven't visited the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, I highly recommend it.

Video of the live demos from the event: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15710264

Except that the Alto came out in 1973. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerox_Alto

True, but FTA:

> Most of this vision of the “office of the future” was first unveiled at a meeting of Xerox executives held on 10 Nov 1977, which was 40 years ago last week.

> The Xerox Alto, widely recognized as the first modern personal computer

It it wasn't available for personal use, this is a delusional claim. Maybe the first prototype of a personal computer. But that's all it was - a (impressive) technical prototype.

Good heavens, I'm a bit astounded by this dismissal. I think it's fair to say that you can simply consider yourself not covered by “widely recognized” rather than drop supercilious nit-picks here and we'd all be better for it.


I guess if the nit-picking is to stand my work computer isn't a PC either.

well they where meant for personal use as I understand it

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