was a research prototype; an experiment in how to build a computer, but also in how people might use a computer. The Alto was a project, not a product, but its influence on computing was immense. Among its many innovations were: including the first bit-mapped display, a graphical user interface (GUI), an integrated mechanical mouse, Ethernet networking, and more.
The Alto was developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Established in 1970, PARC was designed to be a world-class research and development laboratory, and was soon filled with some of the brightest minds in computer science at the time, including Alto project-lead and computer architect Charles “Chuck” Thacker; Alan Kay, who developed the idea of object-oriented programming and introduced the desktop metaphor; Bob Metcalfe who spearheaded the development of the Ethernet Local Area Network (LAN); and Charles Simonyi, credited with developing BRAVO, the first word processing program based on the principal of “what you see is what you get,” among others.
The Alto was the future, but it would not be Xerox’s future. Approximately 2,000 Altos were produced, but most sat in offices at Xerox, or were made available on short-term loans to universities and government agencies (indeed, for a short period, each of the 435 congressional offices of the U.S. House of Representatives had an Alto). Manufacturing costs ranged from $12,000-18,000 (in part due to the high cost of computer memory at the time) and Xerox did not see much of a market for such an expensive machine.
Steve Jobs toured PARC in 1979, and after receiving a demonstration of the Alto, knew immediately what he wanted to succeed the Apple II. Graphic User Interface, windows, and a mouse were incorporated into the Lisa, Lisa 2, and, in 1984, the Macintosh. In 1985, Microsoft released its own take on the GUI-- Windows 1.0.