Talk:Xerox Alto

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Optical mouse ?[edit]

I find it hard to believe this computer used an optical mouse.

  • Please "sign" your contributions to talk pages; this is normally done using two dashes followed by three or four tilde characters. For more information see Help:Talk_page.
  • Anyhow, it might have used an optical mouse, but not of the current style with a fancy image sensor and digital image processing. The original optical mice required a special mousepad printed with blue and grey lines, and could only detect mouse movement relative to those lines. See the Mouse_(computing)#Optical_mice. --Brouhaha 03:20, 13 January 2006 (UTC)
    • This description fits the optical mice used by the first Sun workstations (which were directly inspired by the Alto). --Jorge Stolfi (talk) 03:53, 21 March 2009 (UTC)

The Alto never used the Mouse Systems Optical Mouse, the one with the striped mousepad. It did have optical encoders on the shafts of a ball mouse. At one time "optical" meant an optical encoder rather than a mechanical encoder to turn rotational motion into quadrature signals. The quadrature output was directly connected to a readible register, and software interpreted the signals into curson position changes. --User:brtech

The optical mouse used by the Alto was invented and manufactured in-house. It was fully plug compatible with the original mechanical mice. It used a paper optical target that was a a gray halftone, i.e. a hexagonal pattern of small dots. See US Patent 4,521,772. —Preceding unsigned comment added by StandardsNettle (talkcontribs) 06:46, 10 May 2009 (UTC)

First personal computer ?[edit]

"The Xerox Alto, developed at Xerox PARC in 1973, was the first personal computer" -- This page says otherwise: http://www.blinkenlights.com/pc.shtml and no, --Brouhaha, I won't sign my contributions to talk pages, edit it and sign it for me, god your lazy.

Looking at the link, I think the claim that this is the first personal computer is justified. The earlier ones don't quite deserve that label, although they are pretty interesting. It would also be nice to have references to Englebart and NLS in the history of the Alto.--Gerry Gleason 16:05, 26 November 2006 (UTC)

In fact, according to the article, "The Xerox Star: A Retrospective" by Jeff J. et al., members of PARC including Alan Kay COINED the term "personal computer" in 1973. --JungIn (talk) 06:07, 20 January 2012 (UTC)

From the beginning it was a personal workstation class machine. It's memory address-ability made it a minicomputer (akin to a Data General Nova (16-bit), but it's architecture was vastly different from prior minis. 143.232.210.38 (talk) 17:26, 8 April 2013 (UTC)

Chuck Norris?...[edit]

Might be a namesake, but please, don't link to the roundhouse kicking guy. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 81.83.38.117 (talk) 14:39, 8 February 2009 (UTC)

Operating system[edit]

What OS did the Alto use? Dread Lord CyberSkull ✎☠ 02:23, 21 September 2006 (UTC)

It was named Pilot. And the PARC Blue & Whites (the technical reports) mention this. 143.232.210.38 (talk) 17:22, 8 April 2013 (UTC)

Microcomputer, not Minicomputer[edit]

The first sentence of the article says it is a minicomputer. Minicomputers are the precursor's to today's midrange computers, smaller than mainframes but still client-server architecture. The Alto is a microcomputer, analagous to personal computer or desktop computer which is not a dumb terminal. --64.34.243.218 Peter in Vancouver

  • There are varying definitions of minicomputer and microcomputer. The hardware design of the Alto is similar to that of contemporary minicomputers such as the Nova and PDP-11. The term "microcomputer" didn't even exist when the Alto was designed. The most common usage of microcomputer for many years was a computer using a microprocessor as its CPU; the Alto certainly doesn't qualify as a microcomputer with that definition. (However, today even IBM mainframes would qualify as microcomputers with that definition.) --Brouhaha 21:15, 21 March 2007 (UTC)

Commercial success[edit]

The text refers to "the commercial success of the IBM PC in 1979"... which surely cannot be correct as the IBM PC was not released until 1981. However, I don't know if it was a "success" right from the start. What year should be used in the main article? Drhex (talk) 14:29, 22 October 2008 (UTC)

  • This error is still in the text, five months later. Moreover, the only Xerox PC I can find from around that time is the Xerox 820, which was apparently released in 1981. I find it highly unlikely that the 820 was any kind of response to the IBM PC. I'm going to strike the assertion that it was. Metageek (talk) 14:30, 18 March 2009 (UTC)

Never a commercial product??[edit]

The text says "The Alto was never a commercial product". My memory may be faulty but didn't they sell a boatload of Altos to Boeing? Thethibs (talk) 01:39, 23 December 2008 (UTC)

  • The Alto never was a Xerox product,for sure. I was an intern at xerox Parc in the early 80's and never heard of industrial uses of Altos outside Xerox itself. Such a "sale" would have been great publicity for PARC,so it seems unlikely that it would have been kept secret. Aren't you confusng the Alto with some other workststation (Sun, or a later Xerox product)? --Jorge Stolfi (talk) 03:53, 21 March 2009 (UTC)

Did Apple license the Allto user interface from Xerox?[edit]

The article said Xerox only realized their mistake in the early 1980s, after Apple's Macintosh revolutionized the PC market thanks to its bitmap display and the mouse-centered interface—both copied from the Alto. An anonymous editor changed copied to bought. Is that true? That is, did Apple ever pay Xerox for the right to use those concepts? AFAIK, the concept of "user interface copyright" did not exist at the time (and it was only thanks to the Alto and its successors that people came to realize the importance of those "decorative details"). All the best, --Jorge Stolfi (talk) 16:45, 30 July 2009 (UTC)

Poor photos[edit]

The two photos in use are barely representative of the Alto. The first photo while showing the keyboard and monitor isn't the computer (which is good about it is the lack of the ten-key pad that many keyboards of that era had (that was deliberately an add-on)). The second is better including the computer's CPU and memory housing, disk drive and mouse, but lacks the corded keyboard (an Engelbart feature which never caught on). To truly be complete (and something Jobs admitted to missing), would be a yellow coaxial cable (Ethernet) which was an important part of the machine (communication: to servers and other machines). The original released photo (in the technical report, which is also reproduced in computer architecture books by Bell and Newell (later Sieworek, Bell, and Newell)) of the Alto has all these features. This is an overall failing of the choice of wording in this article: these were in large part not stand alone machines nor were they intended as such. A site was never intended to get just one Alto. 143.232.210.38 (talk) 18:03, 8 April 2013 (UTC)

ISBN 10 vs. ISBN 13[edit]

Hello - I just wanted to mention a couple of things about a concern that was raised about an edit I did on this page - There was a book that was cited as a source, and in the ISBN section of the citation, both the ISBN-13 (9781932159578) and the ISBN-10 (1932159576) (separated by a comma) were included. The presence of both caused the Book Sources link not to work correctly. I removed the ISBN-10 and the comma, and the ISBN-13 was what remained, and the Book Sources link worked OK.

The removal of the ISBN-10 lead to this concern: "For as long as we don't know the ISBN is wrong, I don't think we should remove it just because the the template does not accept multiple isbns. Moved to id= instead."

I apologize if I am stating a fact that is already well-known, but, the ISBN-13 and the ISBN-10 of a given book are essentially the same number. The guts of the ISBN are the 4th through 12th positions of the ISBN-13, (9781932159578), and the first through the ninth position of the ISBN-10 (193215957). Therefore, for the purposes of identifying the book, there is no difference between the ISBN 10 and the ISBN 13.

If we want to try also using the ID parameter, then that's fine, but I just wanted to put that all out there. Thanks to all for all that each of you do for WP. KConWiki (talk) 04:29, 24 December 2013 (UTC)

Very quick development[edit]

The current version of the article states that the computer was developed at Xerox PARC on March 1, 1973 which I find impressive if my understanding of the word develop is correct. The source, unfortunately, is dead. - Tournesol (talk) 07:00, 5 March 2014 (UTC)

White House and Senate utilization[edit]

The Diffusion and Evolution section contains the line "The White House information systems department acquired an Alto", which makes it sound like just one, but some time in 1979 (when I was working at Xerox's Advanced Systems Division in Palo Alto), I went to Washington to demo some Alto software to both the White House and Senate information systems offices, and they had several of them at the Senate. They were using Bravo and the Dover printers to format and print all the bills that they distributed to Congress members. It's been a long time and I don't remember exactly how many, but about 4 to 6. They were already in use, installed sometime in 1978; we were only delivering updated software. (Not putting this in the article, since I have no printed source for it.) -- Teri Pettit (talk) 03:43, 27 April 2014 (UTC)

A minor correction to Terri's comment: The U.S. Senate was using BravoX, the sequel to Bravo. Source: I was the "hardcopy guy" on the BravoX Project from 1978 to 1980. The Senate typographers were some of my most valued users, both for their feedback and for new functionality requests. -- Peter Rowell 19:00, 10 February 2015 (UTC)

Who built the Altos[edit]

In March 1973 PARC delivered the parts to build Alto numbers 2-5, to the Systems Integration Group in Xerox, El Segundo, CA. The project Engineering team was headed by Doug Stewart and the Operations responsibility was headed by Abbey Silverstone. An order for 30 more units followed after a re-design effort led by Chuck Thacker at PARC and Doug Stewart in Xerox, El Segundo. CA.

Subsequent orders went to the newly formed Special Programs Group in Xerox, El Segundo. CA. which guided by John Ellenby at PARC and managed by Doug Stewart in El Segundo. The Operations end was managed by Abbey Silverstone. The previously mentioned Rick Nevinger was the buyer of parts that went into the Alto system.

A total in excess of 2000 were subsequently manufactured by the Special Programs Group in El Segundo, CA

At no point was Clement Labs involved in the Alto production process. This can be verified by Chuck Thacker, John Ellenby and others that were at PARC during the 1970's.

Abbey Silverstone Operations Manager, Xerox El Segundo 1969-1979 — Preceding unsigned comment added by Aasilver (talkcontribs) 18:03, 29 July 2014 (UTC)

Price in 1978[edit]

In the German wikipedia and at least one book you can read that the Xerox Alto was sold at 32.000 US-$ in 1978 -- as this is not mentioned here I like to share this -- including my doubts, 32.000 feels a bit "suspicious" also found the figure 40.000 US-$ or even 40.000 was the original price but 32.000 the "discount" later. Has anyone found a original source for a price (or any other information on this subject?) -- Thomas Österheld (talk) 05:15, 4 November 2014 (UTC)

Unsourced CamelCase claim and the underscore[edit]

"The Alto keyboard lacked the underscore key, which had been appropriated for the left-arrow character used in Mesa for the assignment operator."

Yeah, the thing is, all images of Xerox Alto keyboards that I can find actually do contain the underscore, on the same key it is on modern American keyboards. Whether it actually produced an underscore character is unclear, but I would hazard to guess it did, given the "left-arrow character" seems to also be present. This may also not hold for very early keyboard models. Kumiponi (talk) 02:31, 2 December 2015 (UTC)

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