Designed hardware for Xerox Alto, co-invented Ethernet and did formative work at Microsoft
As the Association for Computing Machinery’s In Memoriam records, Thacker’s early career saw him join Xerox’s famed Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where he worked on the Xerox Alto, the first personal computer to offer a graphical interface. Source code for the Alto was released in 2014.
Thacker was responsible for the Alto’s hardware and while developing it got to thinking about how the computer might communicate with the outside world. Those musings eventually turned into Ethernet, with Thacker acknowledged as a co-inventor beside Robert Metcalfe, David Boggs, and Butler Lampson.
Thacker also worked on early laser printers and, after time at DEC where he worked on a pen-based computer. He later headed for Microsoft Research where he was once rumoured to be working on a “wireless e-book”, but probably the design for hardware to run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition (one of which we evaluated way back in the year 2002.
Numerous awards came Thacker’s way, including the 2009 Turing Award.
His work is vastly influential. Ethernet and PCs are ubiquitous. Apple’s Steve Jobs famous visit to Xerox PARC saw him create products that made the GUI ubiquitous, too, and later made touch-screen phones a hit before succeeding with tablet computers after others had failed. Thacker’s work made those efforts and much more possible. His like may never be seen again. ®