from single core
Charles P. Thacker discusses the legendary Alto personal
computer, the invention of the Ethernet, and his current research
on multicore architectures.
CharLes p. ThaCKer, a Technical Fellow
at Microsoft, is the winner of the 2009
ACM A.M. Turing Award for his pioneering contributions to computer architecture and networks, as well as his current
work on multicore computing. (A profile
of Thacker, “Committed to Success,” is
on p. 22.) We spoke with him about the
technological highlights of his career,
beginning with his work at Xerox Palo
Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1970.
Let’s talk about the development of
the alto, the first computer to incorpo-
rate a bitmap display and a graphical
The Alto was actually the second
machine we built at PARC—the first
one was a time-sharing machine. We
wanted a PDP- 10 because that was the
standard machine that the ARPA [Ad-
vanced Research Projects Agency] re-
search community used, but it would
have been unseemly for us to buy one
because Xerox had just bought a com-
puter company that made a compet-
so you decided to build one instead.
Bob Taylor had continuously told
us, “Computers are for people. They’re
personal devices.” That, coupled with
the fact we were in this company that
handled [CoNTiNUed oN p. 111]
microsoft technical fellow and 2009 acm a.m. turing award winner charles P. thacker in front of the charles Babbage Difference engine no. 2 at the computer history museum, mountain View, ca.