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ACM Awards 2009 Turing Prize To Alto Creator Charles Thacker 49

Posted by timothy
from the reflected-glory-rocks dept.
scumm writes "This year's Turing Prize has been awarded to Charles Thacker, whom they describe as (among other things) the 'creator of the first modern personal computer.' From the ACM's announcement: 'ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery today named Charles P. Thacker the winner of the 2009 ACM A.M. Turing Award for his pioneering design and realization of the Alto, the first modern personal computer, and the prototype for networked personal computers. Thacker's design, which he built while at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), reflected a new vision of a self-sufficient, networked computer on every desk, equipped with innovations that are standard in today's models. Thacker was also cited for his contributions to the Ethernet local area network, which enables multiple computers to communicate and share resources, as well as the first multiprocessor workstation, and the prototype for today's most used tablet PC, with its capabilities for direct user interaction.' For further reading, the Wall Street Journal has an article providing more background about Mr. Thacker and the Turing Prize. In the spirit of full disclosure, the submitter feels compelled to point out that this Mr. Thacker is his uncle, and that he thinks this is really cool."
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ACM Awards 2009 Turing Prize To Alto Creator Charles Thacker

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  • Ethernet, which enables multiple computers to share porn and play networked Hearts /Fixed

  • xPad? xPhone? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:35AM (#31450802)

    What I find more fascinating, it that despite all these ground-breaking developments, Xerox never was able to capitalize on them.

    We could be all working on xPads and squawking in xPhones now.

    I'm still scratching my head on this failure. Management error? Naw, can't be that.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      What I find more fascinating, it that despite all these ground-breaking developments, Xerox never was able to capitalize on them.

      We could be all working on xPads and squawking in xPhones now.

      I'm still scratching my head on this failure. Management error? Naw, can't be that.

      For one thing, Xerox was in the paper-photocopy business. I've heard that its management didn't really understand the business model (hell, nobody did, except for Bill Gates) an those that did feared that a "paperless office" would result from the replacement of typewriters and file cabinets. (Yeah, right.)

      Also, as innovative as Xerox's projects were, they were research projects first and marketable products second. They lacked the refinement and consumer focus (eg. user testing, industrial design) that App

      • by 2.7182 (819680)
        They were also in the mainframe business. I learned to program on a Xerox Sigma 7.
    • Re:xPad? xPhone? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Megane (129182) on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:46AM (#31450900) Homepage

      Management absolutely. "We're a copier company. Why are you working on this crazy crap?"

      At least Apple copied the stuff with permission, which the Anti-Apple crowd conveniently never mentions. Xerox management didn't care and basically let them have it cheap.

      • by ascari (1400977)

        At least Apple copied the stuff with permission

        After all, how ironic if Xerox was to say "Hey, they're copying!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 (641858)
        Cheap? The stock that Xerox got from Apple covered the cost of operating PARC for its entire lifetime. The laser printer, similarly, generated enough revenue to fund all of the R&D from PARC.
      • At least Apple copied the stuff with permission, which the Anti-Apple crowd conveniently never mentions.

        Paraphrasing Chris Rock:
        Of course we don’t. It’s like bragging that you never murdered somebody. You’re not supposed to murder somebody, dumbass!! ;))
        What we mention, is that Microsoft did it without permission (and got sued for it). Which you conveniently didn’t mention.

    • Re:xPad? xPhone? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by benjamindees (441808) on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:51AM (#31450928) Homepage

      In a way, they probably capitalized more by not developing them. Established companies tend to grow by hiring people with useful skills, and then only utilizing them for about 5% of their productive day. The rest of the time, they sit around over-paid and under-employed, thinking of ways to improve the business.

      But actually implementing any of those changes would be prohibitively expensive in a company that has 20x more employees than it needs. And, for a long period, longer than the patent protection perhaps, the marginal benefit of the new technology is so much less than the profit generated by the established tech that it isn't even worth trying to productize. So, yeah, you could say poor management but it's really more of a strategic decision to capitalize on a core technology and stifle alternatives rather than driving innovations into the market.

      Examples abound in every industry, autos, energy. Take Google, for instance: tons of money made on basically just little text ads. And that's used to fund all sorts of interesting research that will never make them a dime. The number of employees grows. The stock goes up. The core business never changes. Dividends are never paid. Investors never benefit from 90% of the profits which are spent on employees sitting around innovating technologies that are never used.

      • by rhsanborn (773855)
        I think you swiftly find that the companies who try to rest on a single product line and stifle competition are eventually squashed. As hard as they try to keep alternatives off the market, they will fail. And when those alternatives come to market, they have a problem. That is why google spends so much time and energy on R&D. It isn't because they expect to turn a profit on every idea tomorrow, it's because 1) they need to support their ad model and driving more consumers to goole via all of these fanc
    • by rodralez (1765892)

      I'm still scratching my head on this failure. Management error? Naw, can't be that.

      In the movie "The pirates of Silicon Valley" there is a scene where a high executive at Xerox laughts when researchers show him a prototype of new peripheral: a mouse. BIG moron.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)
      This is why we need to support research institutions and labs! With the attitude that advances and inventions must be immediately profitable, this will drastically limit innovation. We need companies and institutions taking a long term view and not just look at the short term balance sheet. Otherwise our innovations will be reduced to whatever can be quickly productized and what the current consumer fashions dictate.

      The majority of the modern computing technology, including the average home computer, lap
  • by jg (16880) on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:37AM (#31450818) Homepage

    I'm tickled pink.

    His contributions are inspiring; in fact playing with an Alto so many years ago was the first time I got to mess with a graphics display and mouse, if only on an occasional basis for a few hours.

    And I had a chance to work with Chuck a bit: he's great people, and has continued to do first class stuff ever since.
     

    • by Peter Simpson (112887) on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:42AM (#31450854)

      Seconded. Poor Xerox...they had so much and never used it.

      I saw a networked Star (Alto's child) in 1993 when I visited a friend at MIT. After seeing it, Windows 3.1 was quite a disappointment! All I wanted was a UNIX system. Luckily, Linus Torvalds did, too.

      • by sirsnork (530512)
        PARC invented the laser printer, this single invention, it's been said made Xerox more money than they ever spent setting up and running PARC.

        A good [amazon.com] read if you want to know just how many revolutionary things were invented at PARC
    • It's amazing to think that people regard Java as slow, while the Alto was capable of running an entire Smalltalk GUI and suite of apps, all running as interpreted (not even JIT-compiled) bytecode.
      • by olau (314197)

        Yeah, but on the other hand GUI is mostly about having a set of really, really fast routines to do the drawing and the whole lot of glue to do all the interface logic. Java's traditionally screwed up in the first part. Probably no amount of JIT'ing can save you then. :)

        • Smalltalk had a BitBlt operation implemented as microcode on the Alto (the operation was invented for Smalltalk on the Alto). The entire GUI, which treated individual pixels as objects, were implemented in interpreted Smalltalk on top of that operation. This was on a machine with a 5.8MHz CPU (taking 5-10 cycles per instruction) and 128KB of RAM.
  • Wikipedia (Score:3, Informative)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday March 12, 2010 @09:56AM (#31450982) Homepage Journal

    When I saw the summary, I wondered why it didn't link a wikipedia article. After looking him up there, I see why -- the article on him is incredibly thin. Here's the whole of it:

    Charles P. (Chuck) Thacker is a technical fellow and computer pioneer.

    Thacker received his B.S. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967 and then joined the university's "Project Genie" in 1968, which led to a very successful early timesharing system. Butler Lampson, Thacker, and others then left to form the Berkeley Computer Corporation, where Thacker designed the processor and memory system. While BCC was not commercially successful, this group became the core technologists in the Computer Systems Laboratory at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).[1]

    Thacker worked in the 1970s and 1980s at the PARC, where he served as project leader of the Xerox Alto personal computer system, was co-inventor of the Ethernet LAN, and contributed to many other projects, including the first laser printer.

    In 1983, Thacker was a founder of the Systems Research Center (SRC) at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and in 1997, he joined Microsoft Research to help establish Microsoft's research lab in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

    After returning to the United States, Thacker designed the hardware for Microsoft's Tablet PC, based on his experience with the "interim Dynabook" at PARC, and later the Lectrice, a pen-based hand-held computer at DEC SRC.

    In 1994 he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery.

    In 1996 he was named a Distinguished Alumni in Computer Science at U.C. Berkeley. [2]

    In 2004, he won the Charles Stark Draper Prize together with Alan C. Kay, Butler W. Lampson, and Robert W. Taylor.

    In 2007 he won the IEEE John von Neumann medal for "a central role in the creation of the personal computer and the development of networked computer systems."

    In 2010 he was named by the Association for Computing Machinery as the recipient of the 2009 Turing Award[3][4] in recognition of his pioneering design and realization of the Alto (computer), the first modern personal computer, and in addition for his contributions to the Ethernet and the Tablet PC.

    Thacker holds an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and is a Technical fellow at Microsoft.

    BTW, he's not to be confused with this [wikipedia.org] Charles Thacker, who has nothing at all to do with computing and who you most likely would not want to meet.

  • I can't ever hear Alan Turing's name anymore without getting angry all over again at the disgraceful way he died. [experiencefestival.com]

    He essentially founded modern Computer Science. He also lead the team that cracked the German codes during WW2. You could make a case that we owe the man for everything we have today. This is the kind of guy who should have statues in DC and Trafalgar Square. So how did we thank him? By driving the poor guy to his death, that's how.

    You see, none of that other cool stuff he did mattered in the

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      You see, none of that other cool stuff he did mattered in the slightest because he was gay

      It was a different world in the 1950s. Had he been black or communist his fate would have been even worse. Hell, had he been black he would never have been able to accomplish what he did and may well have been found at a young age hanging from a tree just for wanting to.

      However, although he did a whole lot for computer science you can't say he "essentially founded modern Computer Science". That would be John Von Neuman

      • by chthon (580889)

        I do think he really founded Computer Science, the other guys you mentioned founded Computer Engineering.

      • Hell, had he been black he would never have been able to accomplish what he did and may well have been found at a young age hanging from a tree just for wanting to.

        Yeah, good point, England never would have allowed in a brilliant non-white mathematician from a poor country [wikipedia.org] back then.

        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          Black = nonwhite, but nonwhite != black. It was the African anscestry that was looked down on then, not non-whiteness. An Indian born in India doesn't count. Maybe if he'd been born and raised in England (but as an American I'm ignorant of British mores at the time), but Indians aren't black, even though they do have dark skin.

          I'm not sure if they lynched blacks in Britain like they did here, but the point stands anyway.

  • It is really cool. Congratulations!
  • In the spirit of full disclosure, the submitter feels compelled to point out that this Mr. Thacker is his uncle, and that he thinks this is really cool.

    Oh yeah? Well my uncle can beat up your uncle!

    • by scumm (80325)

      Probably. I mean, my uncle *is* a 67 year old Alpha-Geek, not a UFC fighter.

    • by scumm (80325)

      Probably. I mean, he *is* a 67-year old Alpha-Geek.

      • by scumm (80325)

        Oy vey. This is what happens when a post disappears, then magically re-appears.

    • by middlemen (765373)

      In the spirit of full disclosure, the submitter feels compelled to point out that this Mr. Thacker is his uncle, and that he thinks this is really cool.

      Uncle => 'genius', Submitter => 'scumm' ;)

      • by scumm (80325)

        True. I don't use the nickname "scumm" anymore - haven't in about 10 years. But this /. account has been around for longer than that.

  • TFS (though not TFA) glances over the fact that's he's working at Microsoft Research today (and has been for 13 years now) - which is where his work on tablets happened.

    Somewhat ironic, actually, considering how much of its success Microsoft owes to Alto.

    • by jg (16880)

      And Chuck is building hardware which is often, or even usually, running Linux right now.

      Track down the research project that's doing big programmable multiprocessors at Berkeley/Stanford/MS research and others.

      The x86 instruction set is too baroque to fit in a sane number of gates, so in fact most of the software on that hardware is free and open source software.

      • I'm not surprised in the slightest. MSR deals with open source a lot, and directly funds some OSS projects (e.g. GHC Haskell compiler).

  • "So, after decades of careful deliberation, never rushing to judgment, the ACM has decided that the PC and the LAN were significant ideas worthy of recognition. Does this put Tim Berners-Lee in the mix for the award circa 2030?"

    -- a [anonymous] colleague

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