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Xerox Alto Operating System and Alto Applications

The following screen shots show the Xerox Alto in operation with its Operating System, Executives, file managers, BravoX word processor, Draw program, and games including the multi-user Maze War. These images are excerpted from the article:

“The Xerox Alto computer” by Thomas A Wadlow, from Byte 9/1981.
and made available courtesy Marcin Wichary.

There are other images below that come from various sources. Many are thanks to Parc, inc. and Xerox.

Two of the Xerox Alto personal computers:

Each Alto processor is made of medium- and small-scale TTL integrated circuits, and is mounted in a rack beneath two 3-megabyte hard-disk drives. Note that the video displays are taller than they are wide and are similar to a page of paper, rather than standard television screen.
Display from the keyboard-test program:

The Alto keyboard has a separate signal line for each key and can thus tell when any number of keys are being pressed simultaneously. In the display, the black keys are being held down. The small square above the keyboard represents the mouse (see photo 4); one mouse key is also pressed.
Examples of Alto software:

Display of the Alto Executive, with an example of star and question-mark notation.
Examples of Alto software:

NetExecutive (similar to the Alto Executive, but it allows access to resources on the Ethernet.
Examples of Alto software:

Typical Mesa program being edited by Bravo; note the different typefonts used in the program listing.
Examples of Alto software:

Directory from the Neptune directory editor. The file names in black have been selected for further operations such as printing or erasure. The cursor is displayed as a cross in a circle.
Examples of Alto software:

Bravo’s ability to change fonts (there are hundreds of fonts for the Alto, from Gothic to Elvish Runes; the central paragraph in this display has been changed to Greek). The document in the bottom window has to been converted to the form shown in the top window.
Use of the Draw program:

Points are placed with the cursor, and curves and lines are filled in by the program.
Use of the Draw program:

Lines may be "painted" with a variety of “brushstrokes” (the cursor has changed to a small paintbrush).
Use of the Draw program:

Texture is given to the lines; dotted lines are created with the scissors cursor.
Use of the Draw program:
Picture may be mathematically manipulated; a new figure may be created by reversing, tilting, or stretching a copy of the original.
The multiplayer Mazewar game:

The eye represents the persona of an opponent. Any Alto on the net can join or leave the game at any time.
The Pinball game:

Flippers are actuated by the two shift keys; an Alto port can be connected to a speaker to provide bells and buzzer sounds.
The multiplayer Trek program:

This game is played entirely under mouse control. The lower portion of the screen shows a short-range sensor scan; above is the long-range display, and navigation and weapons controls.

Other screen shots of Alto environments in action

Smalltalk environment in action on Alto
(or derivative development system for Xerox Star?)

Alto screen shot showing intricate patterns generated by Smalltalk
click here for medium sized version, here for large sized version and
here for huge version (6MB print quality JPG)

(source: Scientific American Sept 1977 article by Alan Kay)

Know anything more about the Alto and its software (or the environments shown above)?
Contact us!

See Also

DigiBarn's Xerox Alto II/XM

Our Alto 30th Birthday Bash

Maze War running on two Xerox Altos as well as other computers
(also shows the Alto Executive)

Our extensive collection of Xerox computer systems and artifacts at the Digibarn

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