Thursday, March 15, 2012

Essay on the “Alto” Computer

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The Alto computer was produced by Xerox Corporation in 17. It came out of Xerox’s Paolo Alto Research Center (PARC). It was designed to be a small, personal computer used for research. The ability to allow users to share information was also an important part of the design. The Alto is considered by many to be the first personal computer or workstation.

The Alto was the first computer to utilize a graphic user interface (GUI) as well as utilize the Ethernet protocol for networking computers to each other. Other great ideas that first appeared on the Alto were the mouse, the desktop metaphor, icons, windows, menus etc.

The ideas for the computer were revolutionary, but since its main purpose was for research, it didn’t do well as a commercial product. The commercial version of the Alto, the Xerox Star, had a very expensive price tag of $40,000.

The Alto consists of mainly four parts the graphics display, keyboard, mouse, and the disk storage/processor box. The graphics display, keyboard, and mouse were designed to fit on a desk.

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The graphics display of the Alto looks like a TV turned sideways. It is a black and white raster-scan display with dimensions of 8 inches (horizontal) by 10 inches (vertical). The graphics display can support 606 pixels by 808 pixels. The bit-mapped raster-scan takes up lots of memory but it allows the display to be really fast.

The very famous mouse was a box with three buttons on it. The buttons were known as red, yellow, and blue; even though physically they were all black. The mouse that appeared on the Alto was a ball mouse, similar in concept to the ball mouses we still have today.

The disk storage/processor box was designed to sit on the ground and below the desk. It is about the size of a waist high filing cabinet. Each Alto had two -megabyte disk drives. They were often called pizza ovens because they looked so similar to them. The Alto uses a 16-bit processor that can process 400,000 instructions per second.

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