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ACM Awards 2009 Turing Prize To Alto Creator Charles Thacker

timothy posted more than 4 years ago | from the reflected-glory-rocks dept.

GUI 49

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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Ethernet? (1)

Em Emalb (452530) | more than 4 years ago | (#31450584)

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

You won the "eat my asshole" award (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31450592)

now chow down, faggot!

ACM? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31450618)

Is that the spammer/paywall thingy that gives different results to googlebot and normal people?

Re:ACM? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31450772)

no, it's a gay sex thing. "Ass/Cock/Mouth". check urban dictionary (or ask your local turd burglar) but I think you alternate fucking and sucking another dude's asshole.

xPad? xPhone? (3, Interesting)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:xPad? xPhone? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31450864)

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 Apple's and eventually Microsoft's products had.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (1)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 4 years ago | (#31460564)

They were also in the mainframe business. I learned to program on a Xerox Sigma 7.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (3, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | more than 4 years ago | (#31450900)

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.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31452152)

Which is why his Stev(il)eness came out with the steal quote

Re:xPad? xPhone? (1)

ascari (1400977) | more than 4 years ago | (#31453948)

At least Apple copied the stuff with permission

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

Re:xPad? xPhone? (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31454686)

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.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31458272)

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? (4, Interesting)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 4 years ago | (#31450928)

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.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (1)

rhsanborn (773855) | more than 4 years ago | (#31454834)

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 fancy expensive things gives them more revenue and 2) because they want to start working on finding other markets (fiber rollout?) before their business model is taken over or superseded.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (1)

rodralez (1765892) | more than 4 years ago | (#31451730)

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.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31451742)

Read this bookL

Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, then Ignored, the First Personal Computer

Re:xPad? xPhone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31452484)

They just failed at the patent game and by the time they realized they had anything IBM has patented it.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31453624)

They did capitalize on them to some extent. I actually used some of their Xerox Star [wikipedia.org] machines back in the 1980s. They were a strange combination of the most advanced computer I'd ever seen (as in: "Someday, they'll all be like this") coupled with performance limitations (slinging that kind of data around took a lot compared to the hardware of the day). They had big, high-resolution greyscale displays that put normal personal computers of the day to shame (640x200 the IBM PC? It is to laugh). They had an excellent GUI and transparent and convenient networking (things like an in/out box for files between connected machines on the network). They were just amazing systems, and easy and intuitive enough that an ordinary office secretary had little trouble understanding them and adapting their workflow.

Alas, they were hellishly expensive and, as I mentioned, a little slow sometimes. Basically, they were too far ahead of the technology curve. The software so far ahead of the available hardware that what they could deploy was both expensive and slow, and that killed off any broad market potential these systems could have had.

Management had a hand in the failure, I'm sure, but there were underlying technical limitations too.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31453984)

The book "Dealers of Lightning" gives a good look inside PARC and Xerox at the time.

Re:xPad? xPhone? (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 4 years ago | (#31456220)

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, laptop, peripherals, network, browser, software, phones, etc, was born from universities, research institutions, and corporate labs.

This is amazingly deserved. (5, Interesting)

jg (16880) | more than 4 years ago | (#31450818)

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.
 

Re:This is amazingly deserved. (4, Insightful)

Peter Simpson (112887) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:This is amazingly deserved. (1)

sirsnork (530512) | more than 4 years ago | (#31453912)

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

Re:This is amazingly deserved. (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31454736)

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.

Re:This is amazingly deserved. (1)

olau (314197) | more than 4 years ago | (#31456134)

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. :)

Re:This is amazingly deserved. (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31460246)

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 (2, Informative)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31450982)

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.

Re:Wikipedia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31451326)

Because he's a true scientist? and not a monkey - writing paper after paper of useless academic junk?

Requiem for Alan Turing (1, Offtopic)

T.E.D. (34228) | more than 4 years ago | (#31450994)

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 slightest because he was gay.

F'n ingrates.

Re:Requiem for Alan Turing (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31451336)

there's a lesson to be learned: don't be gay.

Re:Requiem for Alan Turing (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31451490)

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 Neumann, as well as John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert of the University of Pennsylvania. Note that modern computers use the "Von Neumann archetecture", like ENIAC [wikipedia.org] did. Yes, Turing contributed quite a bit to that machine, but again, you can't say he founded modern computer science.

Re:Requiem for Alan Turing (1)

chthon (580889) | more than 4 years ago | (#31451658)

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

Re:Requiem for Alan Turing (1)

volxdragon (1297215) | more than 4 years ago | (#31455786)

Mod parent up.... CS != CE they are two very different creatures.

Re:Requiem for Alan Turing (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 4 years ago | (#31458322)

I thought that was following out of the general fact that *S != *E.

Re:Requiem for Alan Turing (1)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 4 years ago | (#31452514)

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.

Re:Requiem for Alan Turing (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 4 years ago | (#31455462)

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.

Yes (1)

wilder_card (774631) | more than 4 years ago | (#31451600)

It is really cool. Congratulations!

In the interest of full disclosure.. (1)

TheJodster (212554) | more than 4 years ago | (#31452518)

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!

Re:In the interest of full disclosure.. (1)

scumm (80325) | more than 4 years ago | (#31453528)

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

Re:In the interest of full disclosure.. (1)

scumm (80325) | more than 4 years ago | (#31453534)

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

Re:In the interest of full disclosure.. (1)

scumm (80325) | more than 4 years ago | (#31454296)

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

Re:In the interest of full disclosure.. (1)

middlemen (765373) | more than 4 years ago | (#31453918)

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' ;)

Re:In the interest of full disclosure.. (1)

scumm (80325) | more than 4 years ago | (#31454184)

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.

less than 30 posts in some 4 hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31453056)

and half of the post are homophobic jokes.

this topic doesn't seem to be stoking much passion.

Re:less than 30 posts in some 4 hours (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 4 years ago | (#31454830)

Because it's not exactly interesting or controversial news. He did some amazing work and over the past 15 years has collected quite a few awards for it. Now he's got the Turing Award, which is the closest you can get to a Nobel Prize for computer science. He's not the first person to get a Turing Award for stuff at PARC (Alan Kay for one in 2003).

Probably the only person with anything negative to say is Dan Ingalls, who did a lot of cool work on the projects that Alan Kay and Charles Thacker are recognised for at PARC (as well as some other cool stuff) and is still waiting for his Turing Award...

He's at MS (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#31453310)

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.

Re:He's at MS (1)

jg (16880) | more than 4 years ago | (#31455248)

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.

Re:He's at MS (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#31455526)

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).

No rush to judgment here (1)

drdrgivemethenews (1525877) | more than 4 years ago | (#31456064)

"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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