Charles P. ‘Chuck’ Thacker:
In Memoriam | DOI: 10.1145/3107180 Lawrence M. Fisher
ceive the 2009 ACM A.M. Turing Award
“for the pioneering design and realization of the first modern personal computer—the Alto at Xerox PARC—and
seminal inventions and contributions
to local area networks (including the
Ethernet), multiprocessor workstations, snooping cache coherence protocols, and tablet personal computers.”
Thacker said the “secrets for his decades of continual success” included:
strive for simplicity, build a kit of reusable tools, insist on sound specifications, think broadly, and make sure
your collaborators also succeed.
In 2010, ACM then-president Wen-
dy Hall said Thacker’s “contributions
have earned him a reputation as one
of the most distinguished computer
systems engineers in the history of the
field. His enduring achievements—
Thacker, born in Pasadena, CA, on
Feb. 26, 1943, earned his bachelor of
science degree in physics from the
University of California, Berkeley (UC
Berkeley) in 1967.
In 1968, Thacker joined UC Berkeley’s
“Project Genie” to finance a graduate
degree in physics. Instead, he recalled,
“I went to work for this computer project,”
which the Berkeley Time-sharing System,
commercialized by Scientific Data
Systems as the SDS 940.
Thacker joined Butler Lampson (
recipient of the 1992 ACM A.M. Turing
Award) and others to launch the startup
Berkeley Computer Corporation (BCC).
While BCC was not successful, this
group became the core technologists
of the Computer Systems Laboratory at
Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).
Thacker spent the 1970s and 1980s
at PARC. There, he led the project that
developed the Xerox Alto personal computer system, the first computer designed from the ground up to support
an operating system based on a graphical user interface. The hardware of the
Alto was designed mostly by Thacker,
with Lampson developing its software.
He also is credited as co-inventor
(along with Robert Metcalfe, David
Boggs, and Lampson) of the Ethernet
family of networking technologies, developed at PARC between 1973 and 1974.
In 1983, Thacker was part of the
group of computer scientists led by
Robert Taylor (manager of PARC’s Computer Science Laboratory) that left PARC
to found the Systems Research Center
(SRC) of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC).
During his tenure there, Thacker devel-
oped Firefly, one of the first multiproces-
sor workstation systems.
In 1997, he joined Microsoft Re-
search, where he helped establish Mi-
crosoft Research Cambridge at Eng-
land’s University of Cambridge.
Returning to the U.S., Thacker de-
signed the hardware for Microsoft’s Tab-
let PC, based on PARC’s “interim Dyna-
book” (which was never built), and the
Lectrice, a pen-based hand-held com-
puter prototype developed at DEC SRC.
In 1984, Thacker, Lampson, and
Taylor received the ACM Software Systems Award “for conceiving and guiding the development of the Xerox Alto
System, which clearly demonstrates
that a distributed personal computer
system could provide a desirable and
practical alternative to time-sharing.”
They also were named ACM Fellows in
1994 in recognition of that work.
In 2004, the National Academy of
Engineering awarded Thacker, along
with Alan C. Kay, Lampson, and Taylor,
its Charles Stark Draper Prize “for
the vision, conception, and develop-
ment of the first practical networked
In 2007, Thacker was awarded the
IEEE John von Neumann Medal for his
“central role in the creation of the per-
sonal computer and the development of
networked computer systems.”
In 2010, ACM chose Thacker to re-
“I have designed
chips, I can design
logic, I can design
systems, and I can
write software up to
and including user