Xerox Alto personal computer is developed at Xerox PARC

1st March 1973
Xerox Alto personal computer is developed at Xerox PARC

On 1st March 1973, the Xerox Alto was introduced at Xerox PARC. The Alto was an early personal computer, the first to use a graphical user interface. It also introduced the idea of using the computer screen to represent a desktop, with files and folders placed on it.

The Alto was never intended to be a commercial product, but around 2000 machines were built and used within Xerox and several universities over the next decade.

Although never available to the general public, The Alto was a big influence on the design of future personal computers. In fact, many of the GUI concepts it introduced are still used today. In 1979, Steve Jobs arranged for Apple engineers to get a demonstration of the Xerox Alto. Jobs remembers the visit to Xerox PARC as follows:

They showed me, really, three things, but I was so blinded by the first one that I didn't really see the other two. One of the things they showed me was object-oriented programming. They showed me that, but I didn't even see that. The other one they showed me was really a networked computer system. They had over 100 Alto computers all networked, using e-mail, etc., etc. I didn't even see that. I was so blinded by the first thing they showed me, which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I had ever seen in my life. Now, remember it was very flawed. What we saw was incomplete. They had done a bunch of things wrong, but we didn't know that at the time. Still, though, the germ of the idea was there, and they had done it very well. And within ten minutes it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this, someday.

After these visits, Apple engineers incorporated the graphical user interface ideas they had been shown into the design of the Apple Lisa and Macintosh systems.

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