PDA

View Full Version : Xerox Alto



marcoguy
April 28th, 2012, 09:40 AM
It's kind of funny. The machine viewed as the first PC is the Altair 8800, released in 1975. It was not much more than a box of switches. However, 2 years earlier, Xerox had developed a PC with a screen, mouse, keyboard, and even a GUI! This was not done again until Apple released the Lisa, a decade later! Imagine what would have happened if Xerox had marketed their Alto computer. We would have skipped right over DOS and Apple would probably have gone out of business a long time ago. Microsoft wouldn't have even been created! I just think that the Alto is not given enough credit. I bet somebody was fired from Xerox the day the Macintosh was released! ;)

Chuck(G)
April 28th, 2012, 09:50 AM
Uh, Xerox did market the Alto--as the 8010 Star. It would never have made it as a personal computer--even in 1981, it was expensive--far beyond the budget of most people.

The big mistake that Xerox made was not looking after their intellectual property rights in the PARC developments. Most microcomputer-based machine developers were well aware of what went on at PARC, but the resources to put those features into an affordable package were elusive at best.

marcoguy
April 28th, 2012, 10:10 AM
Oh, my mistake. That's what I get for reading one article and posting this! I still think that if they had gone about it's marketing/production/development in a better way, it would have changed changed computer history.

Erik
April 28th, 2012, 07:51 PM
Not a whole lot of folks consider the Altair 8800 to be the first PC. It was released in 1975. The Mark-8 was released in 1974. The Micral and Scelbi 8 were released in '73 and the Kenbak 1 (considered the first PC by the Computer History Museum) was a 1971 vintage machine.

The Xerox Alto would have been priced between $10,000 and $15,000 in 1973 dollars. That was as much as a house and would never have been considered a "personal computer" for that reason alone.

If you want to talk about a one man, one machine definition of PCs then you'd have to go back to the PDP-1 (1959) to get closer...

leaknoil
April 28th, 2012, 07:57 PM
The big mistake that Xerox made was not looking after their intellectual property rights in the PARC developments. Most microcomputer-based machine developers were well aware of what went on at PARC, but the resources to put those features into an affordable package were elusive at best.

It was great for all of us and I'm not unsure they didn't feel the same way. Now days the act of opening a dogfood bag and pouring the food in a bowl has probably been patented by 17 different people. It was a true think tank. Much like Bell Labs. I don't think we will ever see their like again and the ceo's and lawyers will make sure of it.

krebizfan
April 28th, 2012, 08:21 PM
I thought Xerox had gotten some payment for the GUI concepts from the Alto. Though by the time Apple initially looked closely at PARC, the various Alto's related patents were already halfway to expiring. Maybe Xerox could have fought harder and maybe delayed the adoption of a GUI by a year or two but by 1990 the patents would have expired.

Chuck(G)
April 28th, 2012, 08:46 PM
The Xerox Alto would have been priced between $10,000 and $15,000 in 1973 dollars. That was as much as a house and would never have been considered a "personal computer" for that reason alone.

If you want to talk about a one man, one machine definition of PCs then you'd have to go back to the PDP-1 (1959) to get closer...

The closest thing to a personal PDP-8 in my recollection was a 4K machine priced at $5K that could run FORTRAN. That was in the 1960s.

The IBM 5100 (1975) was another contender for a real PC at a shade under $9K.

marcoguy
April 29th, 2012, 06:03 AM
Well, I guess I'm just a little looser with the term "Personal Computer". I don't really look at the price. I just look at the fact that it's not a mainframe and can be used by a person at a desk without the desk being too huge. Also, there are a few people I know who strongly believe that the altair 8800 was the first PC ever. That's where I got the idea that most people thought that too. Oh well. I guess I was wrong.

vwestlife
April 29th, 2012, 09:14 AM
The definition of the first personal computer depends on what your exact criteria is. The Altair usually gets the credit because it introduced the S-100 bus which became a popular standard in the late '70s and early '80s. Otherwise without that, it wouldn't be much of a computer at all, with just a bunch of switches and LEDs on the front panel.

The Apple II, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I, all introduced in 1977, come much closer to what anyone would think of and recognize today as a personal computer.

marcoguy
April 29th, 2012, 09:28 AM
Yeah, the Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore PET is probably the earliest PC I would collect. I'm actually mainly an IBM collector, and that's 1981 at the oldest! :D

Erik
April 30th, 2012, 06:57 AM
The definition of the first personal computer depends on what your exact criteria is.

And those criteria are usually:
1. A full computer (i.e. a proper Von Neumann architecture, stored-program computer.)
2. designed for use by a single person.
3. priced such that a single person could afford it.

By those criteria the CHM has designated the Kenbak-1 as the world's first.

I can't imagine any other criteria that make sense to add.


The Altair usually gets the credit because it introduced the S-100 bus which became a popular standard in the late '70s and early '80s. Otherwise without that, it wouldn't be much of a computer at all, with just a bunch of switches and LEDs on the front panel.
There were tons of computers before the S-100 bus and each was considered a computer and not just a pack of switches and lights. IMO the bus, while nice, doesn't represent a valid criteria for nominating something as a "personal computer."

The Altair was the first successful personal computer but not much more.


The Apple II, Commodore PET, and Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I, all introduced in 1977, come much closer to what anyone would think of and recognize today as a personal computer.

True. They are the first consumer grade machines. But that's another designation altogether.