Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Charles Thacker, Dead at 74

Cyrus Farivar, Ars Technica:

Charles Thacker, one of the lead hardware designers on the Xerox Alto, the first modern personal computer, died of a brief illness on Monday. He was 74.

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.)

Thacker also helped demonstrate the viability of a tablet-style computer — something bigger than a PDA with PC-like capabilities — when he worked on prototypes for Microsoft’s Tablet PC project in the late 1990s.

Jake Swearingen, New York magazine:

Fellow Xerox engineer Alan Kay had the idea for what he called a “Dynabook,” — a computer with the form factor of a book that would be permanently networked, allowing for its contents to be continuously updated. Thacker took the idea and ran with it, eventually migrating to Microsoft where he worked on their Tablet PC, released in 2002. Again, while Microsoft’s version of the tablet was not a success, it laid the foundation for tablet computers to come — including, of course, the iPad.

That’s a life well lived.