Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 6th Jul 2007 20:01 UTC, submitted by Oliver
Apple 10ZenMonkeys has interviewed Steve Wozniak. When asked about Bill Gates, he replied: "I've only spoken with him briefly a couple of times. I admire him, he admires me. Good lord, I'd never written a computer language when he had written a BASIC in the early days of hobby computers. And I thought, 'Oh my gosh - a computer with BASIC finally makes a computer that people can use for things'."
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tupp
Member since:
2006-11-12

...I dont see the Alto as an "invention" as such,...

The Alto was not the first computer, but it is probably the first computer to use a true GUI, which would make it a significant invention.

My point throughout this thread has been that credit that should go to the original inventors is usually taken by those who make the invention popular. Steve Wozniak/Jobs may have sold a lot of kits and Apple IIs, but they weren't even close to being the inventors of the small computer with a keyboard and monitor that could sit on/under a desk. Undeniably, Xerox had that years before Apple, and the Xerox Alto also had a modern GUI.


...and if we're going to be absolute then the PDP-8 could be considered a Personal computer (minus the gui), or the Imlac PDS-1. They were contained in relatively small cabinets, could be used by a single person, and were both around before the Alto.

Agreed. And all of this progress came many years before Apple computer.

However, the Alto seems to be the only one of the three that used a CPU that was small enough to fit under a typical desk, and it was the only one to use a modern GUI with icons, hierarchal menus, and floating windows.


Hell there was probably some obscure computing device from the 1950's that could be described as "personal", but its not what I'd consider to be a PC.

A Univac could have been personal, but I think that most will agree that what constitutes a personal computer is a keyboard, a monitor and a small CPU box that can fit on-top-of/under a desk (and these elements can be separate or combined).


I have enormous respect for the Alto, but I cant consider it as a "personal computer" in the way that the PET/Apple II/TRS-80 etc. were. Yes it had a mouse, gui, ethernet and various other technologies, but it was a high concept mini-computer used in a research center, rather than a personal device that could be used in the home.

I agree that the 1973 Alto was advanced, far ahead of anything Jobs/Wozniak offered until 1983.

However, how it was regarded and marketed in the early 1970's has no bearing on what it actually is. Do the users of this Alto seem like research scientists in a laboratory formulating "high-concepts?": http://toastytech.com/guis/altokids.jpg


I wouldnt even say that it initiated the home computer market as such. Kits like the Altair and Mark-8 were what kickstarted the hobbyist movement which grew into todays industry.

Again, how a device is marketed/offered/sold (and its success or lack of success) has no bearing on the true nature of the device. The Altair and Mark-8 kits may have furthered the computer hobbyist movement, but the fact is that the Xerox Alto had a monitor, a keyboard, a small CPU box and an advanced GUI long before the existence of those kits and long before Apple computer.


Perhaps my definition of PC is somewhat different to yours, but to me it implies affordable and accessible to the home user, otherwise its another tool that remains in the preserve of universities/governments/corporations etc.

What is affordable and accessible? It sounds as if your definition of a PC would exclude Steve Job's NeXT computer -- those units were prohibitively expensive and used mainly by institutions/corporations.

Edited 2007-07-10 18:14

Reply Parent Score: 1

FAC73 Member since:
2007-07-09

My point throughout this thread has been that credit that should go to the original inventors is usually taken by those who make the invention popular. Steve Wozniak/Jobs may have sold a lot of kits and Apple IIs, but they weren't even close to being the inventors of the small computer with a keyboard and monitor that could sit on/under a desk. Undeniably, Xerox had that years before Apple, and the Xerox Alto also had a modern GUI.


Oh I absolutely understand that view, there's many examples in the industry where success is bestowed on the person who exploits the technology, rather than the person who created it. (For the record, I was a Commodore kid and cut my teeth on a Vic-20. I dont regard the Apple II as something that was dropped from the heavens by Saint Woz, however I do have a lot of respect for it as one of the first microcomputers that came pre-assembled for the home market.)

However, the Alto seems to be the only one of the three that used a CPU that was small enough to fit under a typical desk, and it was the only one to use a modern GUI with icons, hierarchal menus, and floating windows...Again, how a device is marketed/offered/sold (and its success or lack of success) has no bearing on the true nature of the device.

If we were talking about the jet engine, I'd agree with you. If we were talking about a Commodore 64 that was built in 1927 I'd probably agree too, but I think this is where I differ on the Alto. I find its in more of a grey area technologically. It may be one of the best examples of an early small computer, but it wasn't the first. If I was to accept the Alto as a PC, I'd have to accept the PDP-8 as well, and somehow that doesn't feel accurate.

Technically, the gui isn't relevant as to whether the Alto is a PC or not, as many PC's didnt have graphic interfaces in the early days, and even today there's enthusiasts who favour the command line.
If the Alto had been the size of a warehouse, then there's no doubt it couldnt be classed as a PC because of its enormous size, regardless of how sophisticated its interface was.

The fact it was contained in a single cabinet is remarkable, and makes it a contender for the title, but I think defining a PC is about more than how many components can be shoved into a small cubic space. As a matter of fact, I think how its shipped to market is important to consider because any large company with sufficient funds could have poured money into making a one-off desktop computer for the sake of it.

Any car company can pour money into making a one off vehicle with 1000bhp, however the Bugatti Veyron is the only production vehicle with that kind of power (as opposed to some dragster with a rocket on the back).

What is affordable and accessible? It sounds as if your definition of a PC would exclude Steve Job's NeXT computer -- those units were prohibitively expensive and used mainly by institutions/corporations

Well yes actually, I think of them as workstations with an advanced OS. I know that physically speaking they were PC's that were containted in a box under the monitor, but they were exclusive to professionals and academics. (Though I'm sure they had the capability of being used by children to paint pictures with the right software)
The problem is that my definition of "Personal computer" almost intrinsically includes "Home computer", which is something the Alto missed out on because of bad management decisions at Xerox.

Reply Parent Score: 1