Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 13th Aug 2017 14:35 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

We take you through a demo of our restored Xerox Alto. We go through the Neptune file browser, the Bravo text editor, the Draw and SIL programs, network booting, ftp, telnet, Smalltalk, some games and new programs we have made for the Alto.

A great video showing off how the Alto - the precursor to the Star, the mother of all graphical user interfaces we still use today on our desktops and phones - works.

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Comment by jburnett
by jburnett on Mon 14th Aug 2017 00:21 UTC
jburnett
Member since:
2012-03-29

I got to see this at Vintage Computer Festival West 2017. They even let me play with it. It was amazing, I changed some OS code in smalltalk, and the OS updated itself after only a minute or so of waiting.

I never realized how big the Alto was because all you ever see are pictures of the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The box itself is huge, like one of the old SGI Onyx/Crimson desksides (for scale). You get a partial view of it around 11:45 in the video.

The architecture was cool. It did not have a normal CPU. The main processor did multiple jobs by swapping in different microcode. That way it could be a memory controller, a disk controller, an ALU. Apparently the various microcodes went on to be the bytecodes for Java.

Also, this thing was fully network aware, include net boot, file servers, remote management, the first worm (apparently the coined the term worm), and even remote printing. Xerox PARC built the office of the late 80s in the mid to late 70s, and could never convince management to try to sell the thing...

Note: all of this is purely from my recollection of the demo. I knew these machines were seminal to GUIs, but I never really looked at the architecture, networking capabilities, etc... all of which were equally ahead of its time. It is highly likely I misunderstood stuff, so verify everything I said above.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Comment by jburnett
by whartung on Tue 15th Aug 2017 23:28 in reply to "Comment by jburnett"
whartung Member since:
2005-07-06

I got to see this at Vintage Computer Festival West 2017. They even let me play with it. It was amazing, I changed some OS code in smalltalk, and the OS updated itself after only a minute or so of waiting.


Funny. Back in the day, at a university Apple Macintosh event, there was a guy there showing me Smalltalk on a Mac Plus. Now, we're talking THE Smalltalk, a runtime with the original Smalltalk image. This is the same image that Squeak was eventually based off of.

Anyway, he, too, did essentially what you did. He went in using the browser and we changed the width of Scrollbars. As soon as we hit "accept", the scrollbars in the browser we were using changed. Pretty powerful demo.

Reply Parent Score: 2