The Association for Computing Machinery today named Charles P. Thacker the winner of the 2009 ACM A.M. Turing Award for his pioneering design work on the Alto, the first modern personal computer.
Thacker’s work has resonated in today’s computing technologies, even being linked to the modern tablet PC.
Thacker’s Alto design came to life in 1974 while he worked at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). Alto eventually took on innovations that are standard in today’s desktop models. (The Alto incorporated bitmap displays, which enabled today’s GUIs, including What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editors.)
Thacker was also cited for his 1973 contributions as co-inventor of the Ethernet local area network. That work enabled multiple computers to communicate and share resources. Ethernets today, now thousands of times faster than the original, have become the dominant local area networking technology.
He was also cited for his work at Digital Equipment Corp.’s Research Center on Firefly, the first multiprocessor workstation. The work has taken on new importance in today’s world of multicore processors, which are used in many systems for their greater performance capabilities.
In 1997, Thacker joined Microsoft Research, and he helped create the company’s research lab in Cambridge, Mass. There, he oversaw work on direct user interaction with computer hardware, which became the prototype for today’s tablet PC.
After joining the tablet PC team to help launch the prototype to market, Thacker returned to Microsoft Research in 2005. He is now at Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus, working on computer architecture research.
“Charles Thacker’s contributions have earned him a reputation as one of the most distinguished computer systems engineers in the history of the field,” said Wendy Hall, a professor at ACM, in a statement. “His enduring achievements—from his initial innovations on the PC, to his leadership in hardware development of the multiprocessor workstation, to his role in developing the tablet PC—have profoundly affected the course of modern computing.”
Thacker’s colorful computing background also includes extensive publishing and 29 patents in computer systems and networking. He is an alumnus of the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his B.S. in physics.
According to ACM, Thacker also holds an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and he is a fellow of ACM and the Computer History Museum, located in Mountain View, Calif. He is also a member of several academies and the recipient of other awards, including an ACM Software System Award in 1984 for the development of the Alto. In 2007, Thacker received the John von Neumann medal, presented by the IEEE.
The A.M. Turing Award, named after British mathematician and computer scientist Alan M. Turing, carries a US$250,000 prize financed by Google and Intel. The award will be presented to Thacker at an Awards Banquet on June 26 in San Francisco.