How did personal computing start? Many credit Apple and IBM for this radical shift, but in 1973, years before the Apple II and IBM PC, Xerox built the Alto, a computer its makers thought could become the “computer of tomorrow.” The Alto embodied for the first time many of the defining features of personal computing that seem natural now, over forty years later: individual use; interactive, graphical displays; networking; graphical interfaces with overlapping windows and icons; WYSIWYG word processing; browsers; email; and the list goes on . The birthplace of this pioneering machine was Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which assembled a remarkable collection of computer scientists and engineers who made real their idea of “distributed personal computing.”
Original members of the PARC team will present live demonstrations of, and discuss, some of the Alto’s remarkable achievements: Tom Malloy and Charles Simonyi will present Bravo, the WYSIWYG word processor; Bob Sproull will show the graphics programs Markup and Draw; Doug Brotz will display the email client Laurel; Dan Ingalls will reveal the breakthrough programming environment and language Smalltalk; and John Shoch will survey the Alto’s other accomplishments. Our program will close with an audience Q&A session with the PARC presenters. The event will be moderated by David C. Brock, Director of the Museum’s Center for Software History. This will be a unique opportunity to learn about yesterday’s computer of tomorrow that profoundly shaped our world.
This event is co-produced by the Museum’s Center for Software History @CHM(, which collects preserves, interprets, and presents to the world the history of software and its ongoing impact on global society. The Center for Software History’s Al Kossow restored two Xerox Alto computers starting in March of 2017 as part of the center’s Alto System Project. An extensive Alto software archive has been preserved by Al Kossow and extensively curated by valued Museum volunteer Paul McJones, and it publicly available on the Museum’s website. You can learn more about the revolutionary Alto in our permanent exhibition, Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing.
The purpose of the Center for Software History is to collect, preserve, and interpret the history of software and its transformational effects on global society. Software is what a computer does. The existence of code reflects the story of the people who made it. The transformational effects of software are the consequences of peoples’ creation and use of code. In the stories of these people lie the technical, business, and cultural histories of software—from timesharing services to the Cloud, from custom code to packaged programs, from developers to entrepreneurs, from smartphones to supercomputers.
The center is exploring these people-centered stories, documenting software-in-action, and leveraging the Museum’s rich collections to tell the story of software, preserve this history, and put it to work today for gauging where we are, where we have been, and where we might be going. For details, see computerhistory.org/softwarehistory.
Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Boulevard
Mountain View, CA, 94043