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Xerox Alto
A restored Xerox Alto at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle. (Via Living Computer Museum)

A decades-old machine that inspired Paul Allen, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others on the path to putting the “power of computers into the hands of millions of people” is back up and running and Allen gleefully writes about it in a new blog post.

The Microsoft co-founder says he was blown away the first time he saw a Xerox Alto in action, about 35 years ago. He credits the computer, released in 1973, and its many innovative features and capabilities — including a Graphical User Interface — with inspiring Microsoft’s development of Windows and subsequent software.

Paul Allen
Paul Allen.

Now, Allen’s team at the Living Computer Museum in Seattle has restored two of the machines to full working order. On top of that, he writes, “the team has created the ability for the Altos to talk to modern computers by developing a 3-megabit bridge. As far as we know, this is the first time that Altos have been able to communicate with modern PCs.”

While those who visit the museum get the chance to see and use the Alto, Allen said he wanted more people to experience working on the machine. ContrAlto, an application for modern PCs, was created to simulate the Xerox Alto and details about how to install it are available here.

“Even the original Ethernet networking is simulated, so multiple Alto emulators  —  and real Altos!  —  can share files, send e-mail and play vintage Alto games,” Allen said. “I’ve had the chance to use both the restored Alto and the emulator, and the experience reminded me of how much that breakthrough computer enabled me to see the future and translate that possibility into reality.”

The Living Computer Museum, at 2245 First Ave. S., was founded by Allen as a place for preserving and displaying working examples of original computers and software, and makes them available for the public to interact with.

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