Charles Thacker R.I.P.

Charles Thacker, Chefdesigner des Xerox Alto und Erfinder des Ethernet, ist nach kurzer Krankheit verstorben.

Thackers Alto ging 1976 als erster Rechner mit Graphical User Interface (GUI) in die Geschichte ein und als Steve Jobs im Jahr 79 dann das GUI-Konzept von Xerox lizensierte, brach die Desktop-Computing-Revolution in den 80ern aus und bis heute arbeiten wir mit der Schreibtisch-Metapher, die wir letztlich Thacker zu verdanken haben. Teil des Xerox Alto waren neben dem bahnbrechenden GUI auch das erste rudimentäre WYSIWYG-Layout-Programm, ein früher Bitmap-Editor und eins der ersten netzwerkfähigen Multiplayer-Games.

Mach's gut, Chuck, und danke für die ganzen Fenster und Ordner und Icons und Mauszeiger und whatnot. Sad day.

The Alto, which was released in 1973 but was never a commercial success, was an incredibly influential machine. Ahead of its time, it boasted resizeable windows as part of its graphical user interface, along with a mouse, Ethernet, and numerous other technologies that didn't become standard until years later. (Last year, Y Combinator acquired one and began restoring it.)

"Chuck" Thacker was born in Pasadena, California, in 1943. He first attended the California Institute of Technology in his hometown but later transferred to the University of California, Berkeley in 1967. While in northern California, Thacker began to abandon his academic pursuit of physics and dove deeper into computer hardware design, where he joined Project Genie, an influential computer research group. By the end of the decade, several members, including Thacker, became the core of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) computer research group, where they developed the Alto.

In a 2010 interview, Thacker recalled: "We knew [the Alto] was revolutionary. We built it with the very first semiconductor dynamic RAM, the Intel 1103, which was the first memory you could buy that was less than a 10th of a cent a bit. As a result, we realized we could build a display that was qualitatively better than what we had at the time. We had character generator terminals, and some of them were quite nice. But they were limited in various ways, whereas the Alto had the property that anything you could represent on paper, you could put on the screen. We knew that was going to be a big deal."

At the age of 24, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs famously visited Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and saw an Alto firsthand in 1979. That episode is often credited with being a huge inspiration for the eventual release of the Macintosh five years later. (Like Jobs, Thacker also founded a company in his 20s—in 1969, the short-lived Berkeley Computer Company was born.)

Michael Hiltzik, a journalist who wrote an entire book on the history of Xerox PARC called Dealers of Lightning, said that Thacker was a "key designer."

Hiltzik told Ars: "He was the quintessential hardware guy at a time when designing the hardware was a key aspect of the task. He was a master at designing logic boards when that was the guts of the computer. This was before the silicon revolution. He did all that, and he had built a couple of computers even before the Alto."