Milestone-Proposal talk:Xerox Alto

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Proposal Review -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 21:56, 13 June 2019 (UTC)

I have reviewed the proposal and the following are my questions/comments:

1) Under Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:, please remove the quote mark in front of 1983


2) a) In the first sentence of the citation, it states the Xerox Alto set the model for personal computers for more than 40 years. At what point do you start counting the 40+ years from? Is it 1972, 1983 or something in between?

b) There is a specific distinction on PARC-developed Ethernet networking. Why is the high-resolution display and mouse that's mentioned in the same sentence not identified in the same way?

c) What is meant by "defined the agenda for the personal computing industry?"

3) According to the proposal, the plaque will be mounted in the PARC facility lobby and will be accessible during hours when the facility is open. What days/hours is the lobby open to the public? Will PARC require visitors to register or sign in to gain access to the plaque?


Reply by Dick Ahrons: Security protected lobby, open to public daily 8AM-4:30 PM, 650 812-4000 I believe 7 days per week, but check for holidays. Just walk in, no sign-in required

4) Some of the references listed don't contain texts or excerpts (e.g., "Alto: A Personal Computer” Charles P. Thacker, et al. Xerox, Palo Alto Research Center, 1979). Per the Milestone Guidelines, material supporting the proposal must be furnished one of two ways:

- For materials that are not copyright encumbered and which you have the rights to post: attach them to the proposal or provide links to the documents if they exist on other web sites.

- For materials which are copyright encumbered, or which you do not have the rights to post, give references in the text of the proposal, but email the documents themselves to ieee-history@ieee.org so that IEEE History Center staff can forward them to the advocate reviewing the milestone proposal.

Re: Proposal Review -- Richard Ahrons (talk) 20:31, 29 June 2019 (UTC)

Replace this text with your reply

Re: Proposal Review -- Dbrock (talk) 13:49, 1 July 2019 (UTC)

The following is from David C. Brock on Monday, July 1st, 2019 at 9:49AM Eastern:

1) Under Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:, please remove the quote mark in front of 1983

Done


2) a) In the first sentence of the citation, it states the Xerox Alto set the model for personal computers for more than 40 years. At what point do you start counting the 40+ years from? Is it 1972, 1983 or something in between?

Alto began to have influence outside of PARC very quickly, but undoubtedly by 1980 when it had been widely experienced by many people throughout computing communities, and also critically by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen who re-oriented Apple Computer and Microsoft toward the personal networked computing model of the Alto.

b) There is a specific distinction on PARC-developed Ethernet networking. Why is the high-resolution display and mouse that's mentioned in the same sentence not identified in the same way?

PARC researchers created Ethernet. They did not create high-resolution displays or the mouse.

c) What is meant by "defined the agenda for the personal computing industry?”

It means much the same as “served as a model.”

I have altered the suggested milestone text to be slightly shorter and also clearer on this particular question:

From 1972 to 1983, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers developed novel hardware and software for the Xerox Alto, setting the model for personal computing for more than forty years. Alto featured a high-resolution display, mouse, and PARC-developed Ethernet networking. Alto software developments in programming languages, user interfaces, printing, graphics, word processing, networking, email, and more profoundly influenced personal computing thereafter.

3) According to the proposal, the plaque will be mounted in the PARC facility lobby and will be accessible during hours when the facility is open. What days/hours is the lobby open to the public? Will PARC require visitors to register or sign in to gain access to the plaque?

Dick Ahrons addressed.

4) Some of the references listed don't contain texts or excerpts (e.g., "Alto: A Personal Computer” Charles P. Thacker, et al. Xerox, Palo Alto Research Center, 1979). Per the Milestone Guidelines, material supporting the proposal must be furnished one of two ways:

- For materials that are not copyright encumbered and which you have the rights to post: attach them to the proposal or provide links to the documents if they exist on other web sites.

- For materials which are copyright encumbered, or which you do not have the rights to post, give references in the text of the proposal, but email the documents themselves to ieee-history@ieee.org so that IEEE History Center staff can forward them to the advocate reviewing the milestone proposal.


Revised references:

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.


Alto: A Personal Computer. Charles P. Thacker, et al. Xerox, Palo Alto Research Center, 1979.

http://bitsavers.org/pdf/xerox/parc/techReports/CSL-79-11_Alto_A_Personal_Computer.pdf


Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. Michael A. Hiltzik, (1999) HarperCollins ISBN 0-88730-891-0.

This book provides a timeline and description of the activities that took place at Xerox PARC during the development of the Alto. It details the efforts of Charles Thacker and the other people involved with the creation of the Alto and the importance of the concepts contained in the Alto hardware and software.

https://books.google.com/books?id=lzgOduibRJgC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false


Alto: A Personal Computer Hardware Manual. August 1976, A description of the hardware and the standard microcode.

“This document is a description of the Alto, a small personal computing system originally designed at PARC. By 'personal computer' we mean a non-shared system containing sufficient processing power, storage, and input-output capability to satisfy the computational needs of a single user.”

http://bitsavers.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/pdf/xerox/alto/Alto_Hardware_Manual_Aug76.pdf


“The Alto and Ethernet Software.” Butler Lampson, 1986. Description of the Alto Ethernet software published in the Association for Computing Machinery journal.

“The personal distributed computing system based on the Alto and the Ethernet was a major effort to make computers help people to think and communicate. The paper describes the complex and diverse collection of software that was built to pursue this goal, ranging from operating systems, programming environments, and communications software to printing and file servers, user interfaces, and applications such as editors, illustrators, and mail systems.”

http://www.bwlampson.site/38-AltoSoftware/WebPage.html


“The Alto and Ethernet Hardware.” Charles Thacker, 1986. Description of the Alto Ethernet hardware published in the Association for Computing Machinery journal.

“Between 1972 and 1980, the first distributed personal computing system was built at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. The system was composed of a number of Alto workstations connected by an Ethernet local network. It also included servers that provided centralized facilities. This paper describes the development of the hardware that was the basis of the system.”

https://courses.cs.washington.edu/courses/csep590/06au/readings/Thacker.Alto.Hardware.pdf


“The Xerox Alto Computer,” Thomas A. Wadlow, Page 58, Byte Magazine, September 1981. This article confirms the Alto as the beginning of the personal computer as an important tool for research. “In 1972, Xerox Corporation decided to produce a personal computer for research. The result was the Alto computer, whose name comes from the Xerox Palo Also Research Center where it was developed. The Alto was the result of a joint effort by Ed McCreight, Chuck Thacker, Butler Lampson, Bob Sproull, and Dave Boggs, who were attempting to make a device that was small enough to fit in an office comfortably, but powerful enough to support a reliable, high quality operating system and graphics display. Their goal was to provide each user with a personal computing facility capable of meeting all individual needs and a communications facility that would allow users to share information easily. In 1978 Xerox donated a total of fifty Altos to Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). These machines were quickly assimilated into the research community and rapidly became the standard against which other personal computers were judged.”

https://archive.org/details/byte-magazine-1981-09/page/n59


“The Alto and Ethernet System Xerox PARC in the 1970’s,” Butler Lampson, Microsoft Research, October 17, 2006.

http://www.bwlampson.site/Slides/AltoAtPARCIn1970s.pdf


Troublemakers: Silicon Valley’s Coming of Age. Leslie Berlin, 2017, Simon & Shuster, pages 101-106, 221-224 ISBN 978-1-4516-5150-8.

In this book Leslie Berlin tells the story of the Alto and the men who produced it. One of the items to note is the following excerpt: “The flagship software program on the Alto was a word processing program called Bravo. (Its writer, Charles Simonyi, would later move to Microsoft, where Bravo became the design influence for Microsoft Word.)”

https://www.amazon.com/Troublemakers-Silicon-Valleys-Coming-Age-ebook/dp/B06ZZ1YDTX#reader_B06ZZ1YDTX


Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to ieee-history@ieee.org. Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.


“Yesterday’s Computer of Tomorrow: The Xerox Alto.” Computer History Museum event. November 2017.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4m_GhapEBLQ


Xerox Alto Source Code

https://www.computerhistory.org/atchm/xerox-alto-source-code/


1972 commercial for the Xerox Alto.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjvSWCQVpJ0


Video ethnography of ICARUS on Xerox Alto.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BauuOoB6EIU&t=5s


Video ethnography of GYPSY on Xerox Alto.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dhmz68CII9Y


Video ethnography of SMALLTALK on Xerox Alto.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uknEhXyZgsg&t=2844s


Alto Operating System Reference Manual. Description of the Alto operating system compiled in 1980 at PARC.

http://bitsavers.org/pdf/xerox/alto/memos_1975/Alto_Operating_System_Reference_Manual_Jun75.pdf


Bravo Manual. Bravo was the first What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) word processing program.

http://www.bitsavers.org/pdf/xerox/alto/BravoXMan.pdf


Gypsy Operators Handbook. Document publishing program for the Alto.

http://www.bitsavers.org/pdf/xerox/alto/gypsy/Gypsy_Operators_Handbook_May1978.pdf


Markup Users Manual. Markup is an Alto program for document illustration. Its basic purpose is to permit you to add illustrations to an existing formatted text document.

http://bitsavers.trailing-edge.com/pdf/xerox/alto/Alto_Users_Handbook_Sep79.pdf


Alto Users Handbook. September 1979. Provides instructions for non-programmers on the use of the Alto.

http://bitsavers.trailing-edge.com/pdf/xerox/alto/Alto_Users_Handbook_Sep79.pdf


Xerox Inter-Office Memorandum from Butler Lampson, “Why Alto?” December 12, 1972. In this document, Butler provides this statement about the performance of the Alto: “The system is capable of doing almost any computation which a PDP-10 can do. For most problems it can deliver better performance to the user than a time-shared 10, even if the latter is lightly loaded.”

http://www.bwlampson.site/38a-WhyAlto/Acrobat.pdf

Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 21:47, 6 July 2019 (UTC)

Additional questions with respect to the ones that were previously posed:

2) a) The first sentence in the citation states "From 1972 to 1983, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers developed novel hardware and software for the Xerox Alto, setting the model for personal computing for more than forty years." My sense is that this could confuse the reader since if you were to add 40 to the latter year in the date range (1983), you would get the year 2023, which is four years into the future. I think the reference to the 40 years needs to be modified somewhat to remove any confusion with respect to the origin.

b) If PARC did not create the display or mouse, then why mention it? Was the Alto the first to integrate all these together?

New comment:

In the last sentence of the citation, the word "and more" are used. What does that mean? Do the words need to be included in the text?

Re: Proposal Review -- Dbrock (talk) 16:31, 8 July 2019 (UTC)

How about this:

From 1972 to 1983, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers developed novel hardware and software for the Xerox Alto, setting the model for personal computing for decades. Alto integrated a high-resolution display, mouse, and PARC-developed Ethernet networking. Alto software developments in programming languages, graphical user interfaces, printing, graphics, word processing, networking, and email profoundly influenced personal computing thereafter.

Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 01:53, 9 July 2019 (UTC)

In the first sentence, novel hardware is mentioned. The second sentence speaks to integration of the hardware. Was the novel hardware for the Alto just Ethernet networking? Also, from a grammatical standpoint, I don't think "Alto integrated...," but rather, the integration of the various hardware components made up Alto. The sentence requires a modification.

Re: Proposal Review -- Dbrock (talk) 12:51, 9 July 2019 (UTC)

The design of the Alto hardware was novel beyond the inclusion of PARC-created Ethernet in that it used significant quantities of the then-new Intel 1103 DRAM to run the high-resolution bit-mapped display. While "Alto integrated" is perfectly grammatical, that is, a noun followed by a verb, how about:

From 1972 to 1983, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers developed novel hardware and software for the Xerox Alto, setting the model for personal computing for decades. The Alto incorporated a high-resolution display, mouse, and PARC-developed Ethernet networking. Alto software developments in programming languages, graphical user interfaces, printing, graphics, word processing, networking, and email profoundly influenced personal computing thereafter.

Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 13:27, 9 July 2019 (UTC)

The words in the last part of the first sentence ("setting the model for personal computing for decades") sounds similar to the words at the end of the third sentence ("profoundly influenced personal computing thereafter"). Is there a way to make it so it doesn't sound redundant?

Re: Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Dbrock (talk) 13:33, 9 July 2019 (UTC)

From 1972 to 1983, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers developed novel hardware and software for the Xerox Alto, setting the model for personal computing for decades. The Alto incorporated a high-resolution display, mouse, and PARC-developed Ethernet networking. Alto software developments in programming languages, graphical user interfaces, printing, graphics, word processing, networking, and email were widely and profoundly influential.

Re: Re: Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 13:45, 9 July 2019 (UTC)

What about:

From 1972 to 1983, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers developed novel hardware and software for the Xerox Alto, setting the model for the future of personal computing. The Alto incorporated a high-resolution display, mouse, and PARC-developed Ethernet networking. Alto software developments in programming languages, graphical user interfaces, printing, graphics, word processing, networking, and email were widely and profoundly influential in leading the way to today’s computers.

=Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Dbrock (talk) 17:03, 9 July 2019 (UTC)=

Your change makes the text less "evergreen" for a metal plaque in referring to "today's computers." Who knows what "today's computers" will denote during the lifetime of the physical plaque.

==Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 18:57, 9 July 2019 (UTC)==

Change "to today’s computers" to "for modern computers?"

===Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Proposal Review -- Administrator4 (talk) 13:44, 18 July 2019 (UTC)===
Or, how about "...widely and profoundly influenced computing." to make it even stronger and more evergreen?

Expert Review #1 -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 19:52, 7 August 2019 (UTC)

The following is an expert review from Chuck House at InnovaScapes Institute received on 6 August 2019:

Dr. Hui, thank you for the opportunity to review this. VERY APROPOS Milestone for computing, and for Silicon Valley

Re citations, you might also include something about INTERLISP, CEDAR and MESA and the related GUI work. For example, Warren Tietleman’s article (April 1984). "A Tour Through Cedar". IEEE Software. 1 (2): 44–73

I know it might not play well with some IEEE folk, but the Xerox Alto (with Thacker et al) was recognized by the ACM Software Systems Award in 1984, and Tietleman (et al) was later recognized also by the ACM Software Systems Award in 1992 https://awards.acm.org/award_winners/teitelman_7246004

No question this was seminal work, and fully deserves an IEEE Milestone award

Best, Chuck House

• P.S. If you need anything re my credentials, I was HP’s Corporate Engineering Director 1982-1987 in Palo Alto, and spent a fair amount of time at PARC. I wrote the chapter while sitting in Adele Goldberg’s PARC office for A History of Personal Workstations, Addison-Wesley, 1988, Adele Goldberg, editor. C. House chapter, Hewlett-Packard and Personal Computing Systems, 37 pp. https://www.amazon.com/History-Personal-Workstations-Adele-Goldberg/dp/0201112590 I also defined, designed, and built the HP1300A, the first vector graphics display box used by Doug Engelbarrt at SRI, and by Alan Kay at University of Utah as predecessor work for PARC.

Expert Review #2 -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 19:56, 7 August 2019 (UTC)

The following is an expert review from Prof. Bob Sproull at UMass received on 7 August 2019:

I concur with Chuck House’s assessment: this is a good milestone (but see disclaimer below).

The writeup is excellent: it does a better job of concisely describing the context, achievements, and impact of the Alto than anything I have seen. The references are exactly the right ones; they are equally accessible and readable. I attest to the accuracy of the facts in the writeup. (Please congratulate the author of the milestone writeup.)

[In what follows, [BWL] points to succient backup in “The Alto and Ethernet Software.” Butler Lampson, 1986, which is cited in the milestone writeup.]

To comment a bit on Chuck’s comments: although INTERLISP ran on the Alto; it was too slow to be useful. [BWL] But INTERLISP ran on MAXC, PARC’s PDP-10 clone running TENEX, and the Alto served as a graphical interface to INTERLISP that allowed Warren Teitelman to work his magic (DWIM — the Programmer’s Assistant). The Alto as graphical interface to a timeshared computer prefigured in some ways the X window system. A paper on the Alto bit is:

R.F. Sproull, “Raster Graphics for Interactive Programming Environments”, http://bitsavers.trailing-edge.com/pdf/xerox/parc/techReports/CSL-79-6_Raster_Graphics_for_Interactive_Programming_Environments.pdf or Computer Graphics, 13(2):83--93, August 1979.

INTERLISP eventually ran well on and Alto successor, the Dorado.

MESA was developed on the Alto, and deserves mention. By contrast, CEDAR, a full-featured IDE to ambitious for the Alto, was the province of Alto follow-ons, and especially the big fast Dorado. [BWL] A reasonable Mesa reference is:

C.M. Geschke et al "Early experience with Mesa." Communications of the ACM, 20(8):540-553, August 1977. [BWL ref [15]]

DISCLAIMER: I’m qualified to comment on the accuracy of the facts in the milestone writeup. But I was a member of the Xerox PARC Alto team — I created hardware and software that were part of the project. So I must recuse myself from commenting on its significance.

If I can be of any further assistance, I’d be happy to do so.

Bob

Expert Review #3 -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 20:51, 7 August 2019 (UTC)

The following is an expert review from Dr. Dag Spicer, Senior Curator at the Computer History Museum received on 7 August 2019:

Looks OK.

Glad to see plaque is being placed where the history happened.

Dag

Advocate Approval -- Jason.k.hui (talk) 20:52, 7 August 2019 (UTC)

As advocate, I have reviewed the milestone proposal (along with a minimum of two positive expert reviews) and recommend that it move forward for IEEE History Committee consideration.

Jason Hui, IEEE History Committee Vice Chair and Milestone Subcommittee Chair

-- JaninA (talk) 11:49, 14 September 2019 (UTC)

I support this Milestone. But I recommend to remove repetition of dates between the Title and the Citation. Also to add a word "machine", or similar, to Xerox Alto.