PARC PC Pioneers Party
What do “what you see is what you get” word processing, laser printing, Ethernet, computer graphics, and, well, the very vision of the PC, have in common? Not a tough question for personal computing veterans—they all hail from the 1970s and the famous Xerox PARC, Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. And a bunch of these can be traced to the trio on the right side of this photo (and the owner of the home in which it was taken).
It seems to be the season for e-mailed photos. On Friday, local Microsoft lab head Reed Sturtevant beamed over the infamous hawk vs. pigeon photo taken by his former Lotus colleague Bob Frankston in Kendall Square. Then, on Sunday, Xerox PARC and Microsoft alum Charles Simonyi, inventor of Bravo, the first WYSIWYG word processing text editor, e-mailed in this one. It shows a reunion of sorts of himself and two other PARC pioneers of personal computing in the Back Bay home of Bob Metcalfe, another PARC veteran from back in the day.
The pic was snapped on September 25 at a party Metcalfe, a partner at Polaris Venture Partners, held to honor incoming Xerox-MIT Fellows. Simonyi was in town for the MIT Emerging Technologies Conference, and so the reunion was born. I was wandering around looking for a beer or something when I spotted the on-the-spot PARC ensemble and asked Simonyi, whose camera was doing the shuttering, to e-mail it when convenient. We both forgot about it until this weekend.
“Here’s the photo with Butler Lampson, Bob Sproull and me,” wrote Simonyi.
That’s Turing Award winner Lampson second from left—he worked on Ethernet, WYSIWYG, and laser printing. His famous 1972 memo, “Why Alto?,” envisioned the personal computer. He went on to Digital Equipment Corp. and is now at Microsoft Research.
Sproull, a pioneer in 3-D virtual reality from his days at Harvard in the 1950s working with Ivan Sutherland, is third from the left. He, too, worked on laser printing at PARC, where he also blazed trails in computer graphics. He’s currently at Sun Microsystems in Burlington, MA, where he has worked on asynchronous chip design.
Simonyi, who now runs Bellevue, WA, software engineering firm Intentional Software, is on the far right. At Microsoft, he held several titles, including Chief Architect and Distinguished Engineer. Last April, he also took part in the Soyuz TMA-10 mission to the International Space Station (I wish I’d asked him about that.)
Metcalfe himself must have been too busy hosting to jump into this photo, but you might be able to glean his reading list from the books and mags in the background. Standing in for him, on the far left, is former MIT dean of engineering and die-hard Red Sox fan Tom Magnanti.