Artifact Details


Alto II mechanical mouse

Catalog Number



Physical object


Len Shustek writes: Xerox ALTO facts In the late 60's Xerox was alarmed at competition from Japan and wanted to diversify out of copiers. They established the Palo Alto Research Center in 1969 to develop "office of the future" technology. They hired the best and brightest computer scientists from Stanford, UC Berekely, and around the world. They practiced "experimental" computer science by building real systems instead of just theorizing about them. The ultimate vision, promoted by Alan Kay, was of a notebook-sized Dynabook which would accept and produce thousands of page-equivalents of information faster then our senses could use them. Not practical to build then, they began to implement "interim" Dynabooks. In 1972 they began work on the Alto desktop computer which prototyped the graphical user interface that we all use today. It was based on a special monitor that could display an 8+ x 11 sheet of "paper". Unlike terminals of the day, it used proportionally-spaced characters that looked like they had been typeset. The Alto had a mouse (invented earlier by Doug Englebart at SRI in 1965), and the now-familiar desktop environment of icons, folders, and documents. Just like a Mac or Windows-based PC, but in 1975 before there were any personal computers! And on a machine with only 128K bytes of memory. As part of that project they also invented Ethernet networking to connect the Altos together to build a distributed system that shared information and resources like printers. The had 150 of them at PARC, making it the most advanced personal computer lab in the world. Xerox commercialized successors to the Alto as the "Star 8010 workstation" in 1981. But whereas Xerox had gotten almost everything right technically, it got almost everything wrong in marketing (especially: too expensive), and the Star turned out to be one of the biggest product disappointments of the decade. But although Xerox was "Fumbling the Future" (cf book of the same name), the Alto/Star provided the vision for what would come. Steve Jobs visited PARC in 1979 ("Why aren't you marketing this ? you could blow everybody away!") and returned convinced that the next computer (after the Apple II) would have to be like what he had just seen. And it was. Xerox Dover Printer facts Prior to the 1970's, computer printers were fixed-width character printers that could do very little graphics. Xerox was a copier company making machines that could print any kind of graphics, and they were designing graphic computers at PARC, so it would seem a natural to marry the two technologies. Xerox corporate in Connecticut was sceptical, but it could always be justified to them as a "remote copier" sort of like a fax. In 1974 Gary Starkweather at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center took a Xerox 3600 copier apart and designed a computer-controlled laser scanner to write images on the drum instead of optically copying from a page placed on the glass. Based on the lastest in copier technology, it was even fast and detailed compared to today's laser printers (1 page/second and 500 dots/inch). About 50 copies of a slightly cheaper version called "Dover" (384 dots/inch) were made and widely distributed. Although Xerox was never successful with the PARC-developed personal computers, the Xerox 9700 computer printer based on Starkweather's work was a commercial success as a large-computer or shared printer. The small printer market eventually went to HP and the Japanese copier companies.


ca. 1972


Xerox Corporation

Place Manufactured


Identifying Numbers

Model number Alto II
Other number 1246 Engraved in bottom


1 1/4 x 2 x 3 in.




Gift of David Pirogowicz

Lot Number