The Computer History Museum (CHM) announced today that original source code for the Xerox Alto, one of the first personal computers, has been preserved and is available on the Museum’s website. The Xerox Alto laid the foundation for the modern personal computer by uniting hardware and software elements such as the bitmap display, keyboard, mouse, Ethernet, and direct-manipulation user interface with windows and menus.
The Xerox Alto was designed in 1973 for the researchers at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), so they could explore the idea of “personal distributed computing” and build prototype office information systems. Later, more Altos were built and used inside the Xerox Corporation, some were given to universities and in an early marketing test, some were placed at the White House, the US House of Representatives, and the Atlantic Richfield Company.
“We hope students and researchers alike will find it useful to understand the software development of early computers like the Alto to gain better insight into our current PCs and mobile devices, including developments like windows, the mouse-controlled cursor, multiple typefaces and typestyles, networks, file servers, print servers, and electronic mail,” said Paul McJones, founding member of the Museum’s Software Preservation Group.
With permission from PARC, the Museum has made available snapshots of the Alto source code, executables, documentation, font files, and other files from 1975 to 1987.
“Working with companies to make the Museum’s software collection available is an ongoing project, and we hope to add much more to our holdings as time goes on. We are also actively working on funding so that we can accelerate the rate that the Museum can recover, catalog, and ingest the backlog of software into the Museum’s digital archive. This will expand the Museum’s online information knowledge base and foster a deeper understanding of how software has influenced and change the way we live and work,” said Museum’s Robert N. Miner Software Curator, Al Kossow.
For a blog posting surrounding the release of this source code, please visit: http://www.computerhistory.org/blog/xerox-alto-source-code/
The Computer History Museum has the world’s most diverse archive of software and related material. The stories of software’s origins, and software’s impact on the world, provide inspiration and lessons for the future to global audiences—including young coders and entrepreneurs. For other releases in the Museum’s software source code series, please see: APPLE II DOS, IBM APL, Apple MacPaint and QuickDraw, Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Word for Windows Version 1.1 , MS-DOS, and CPM.
The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, is a nonprofit organization with a four-decade history as the world’s leading institution exploring the history of computing and its ongoing impact on society. The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs, and moving images.
The Museum brings computer history to life through large-scale exhibits, an acclaimed speaker series, a dynamic website, docent-led tours, and an award-winning education program. The Museum’s signature exhibition is “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing,” described by USA Today as “the Valley’s answer to the Smithsonian.” Other current exhibits include “Charles Babbage's Difference Engine No. 2,” “IBM 1401 and PDP-1 Demo Labs”, and “Where To? A History of Autonomous Vehicles.”