Charles P. Thacker, co-designer of the first modern PC, dies

The Palo Alto resident also helped invent the Ethernet

Charles Patrick Thacker, a pioneer of the first personal computer, died at his Palo Alto home on Monday, June 12, according to the publication Communications of the ACM, a periodical for the computing and information technology fields. He was 74.

He died of esophageal cancer, his daughter Christine Thacker told the Weekly.

A resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, Thacker is credited with designing the first modern personal computer, the Xerox Alto, and was co-inventor of the Ethernet. He received many notable awards, including the National Academy of Engineering's Charles Stark Draper Prize in 2004; the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers John von Neumann Medal in 2007; and the ACM A.M. Turing Award in 2009. He was inducted as a Computer History Museum Fellow in 2007.

Born in Pasadena on Feb. 26, 1943, Thacker received a bachelor's degree, majoring in physics, from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967. He joined the university's "Project Genie" in 1968, which he and others later left to form the Berkeley Computer Corporation, according to his Computer History Museum biography. Thacker designed the processor and memory system for the corporation.

He joined the Computer Science Laboratory at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1970, where he was the project leader of Xerox Alto, the first computer designed to support an operating system based on a graphical user interface and that also introduced the mouse, according to his obituary in Communications of the ACM.

He was also co-inventor of the Ethernet with engineers Robert Metcalfe, David Boggs and Butler Lampson in 1974, according to the ACM. At PARC, he also contributed to the world's first laser printer.

Thacker left PARC in 1983 with other computer scientists to found the Digital Equipment Corporation's Systems Research Center in Palo Alto. He led hardware development of "Firefly," the first multiprocessor workstation. He also worked on computer networking, according to the Computer History Museum and ACM.

He joined Microsoft in 1997 to help establish the company's Cambridge, U.K., Research Laboratory. In 1999 he returned to the U.S. and joined the Tablet PC group, managing the design of the product's first prototypes.

In a 2014 Microsoft Career Achievement interview, Thacker said he strongly disagreed with persons who felt that computing had become boring.

"New physics is being discovered every day, and many of those discoveries will surely have a significant impact on computing. So the journey has just begun," he said.

Thacker is survived by his wife, Karen; daughters Christine Thacker and Katherine Bellairs; and two grandchildren. Honoring his request, there will not be a service nor a memorial, Christine Thacker said.


8 people like this
Posted by Jordana F.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 11:18 am

I'm so sorry. What an impressive career! I have fond memories of playing at your house as a child. My sincerest condolences to the whole Thacker family.

4 people like this
Posted by Daryl Silberman
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Jun 15, 2017 at 4:07 pm

My condolences to the Thacker family. I have many fond memories of childhood shenanigans with Chris and friends. We always knew that Chris' dad was someone "important" - this is a lovely reminder of the important work he did for Silicon Valley. Wishing the family sweet memories and peace...

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