Personal Distributed Computing:
The Alto and Ethernet Hardware

Charles P. Thacker


Citation: C. Thacker. A History of Personal Workstations, ed. A. Goldberg, Addison-Wesley, 1988.

Links: Acrobat (scanned from the original 1986 publication). A companion paper by Butler Lampson on the Alto software is here. The 1972 memo describing the Alto project is here. Slides for a talk on the development of the Alto and its historical context are here.

This paper is at



Between 1972 and 1980, the first distributed personal computing system was built at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. The system was composed of a number of Alto workstations connected by an Ethernet local network. It also included servers that provided centralized facilities. This paper describes the development of the hardware that was the basis of the system.