The Xerox Alto Computer
A revolutionary machine!
In 1972, Xerox Corporation decided to produce a personal computer to be used for research. The result was the Alto  computer, whose name comes from the Xerox Palo Alto 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.
The Alto consists of four major parts: the graphics display, the keyboard, the graphics mouse, and the disk storage/processor box. Each Alto is housed in a beautifully formed, textured beige metal cabinet that hints at its $32,000 price tag (1979US money). With the exception of the disk storage/processor box, everything is designed to sit on a desk or tabletop.
Screen shots of an Alto

Click here for the Xerox Alto Archive

The concept of using a visual interface originated in the mid 1970s at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) where a graphical interface was developed for the Xerox Star computer system introduced in April 1981.
The Xerox Star did not experience any commercial success, but its ideas were copied by Apple Computer, first in the innovative Lisa in 1983 and then in the Apple Macintosh introduced in January 1984.  The Mac used the Motorola 68000 32-bit CPU running its own proprietary operating system.  The primary new application that made the Mac popular was graphical desktop publishing.
Screen shot of the Star

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