Portrait of Chuck Thacker

Chuck Thacker

Emeritus Researcher


Charles Patrick “Chuck” Thacker (February 26, 1943 – June 12, 2017) was a pioneering architect, inventor, designer, and builder of many of today’s key personal computing and network technologies. Thacker lead the computer world by pioneering the very first true PC, the Xerox Alto, which was the first computer to use a mouse-driven Graphical User Interface. All of today’s personal computers with bit-map screens and graphical user interfaces descend directly from the Alto.

He received his B.S. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley in 1967. He then joined the university’s “Project Genie” in 1968, which developed the pioneering Berkeley Timesharing System on the SDS 940. Butler Lampson, Thacker, and others then left to form the Berkeley Computer Corporation, where Thacker designed the processor and memory system. While BCC was not commercially successful, this group became the core technologists in the Computer Systems Laboratory at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC).

Thacker worked at the PARC in the 1970s and 1980s, where he served as project lead and was the engineering force behind many of PARC’s technologies, including the Xerox Alto personal computer system,  co-inventor of the Ethernet LAN, and contributed to many other projects, including the first laser printer.

In 1983, Thacker was a founder of the Systems Research Center (SRC) of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and in 1997, he joined Microsoft Research to help establish Microsoft Research Cambridge  in Cambridge, England.

After returning to the United States, Thacker designed the hardware for Microsoft’s Tablet PC, based on his experience with the “interim Dynabook” at PARC, and later the Lectrice, a pen-based hand-held computer at DEC SRC.

Because of his breakthrough leadership, drive, and his inspirational mentorship of generations of computer scientists the ACM Breakthrough Award was created in his honor.

Thacker held an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and was a Technical Fellow at Microsoft.

Among numerous awards in his long and decorated career, Chuck received the Turing Award in 2009 and was honored with the ACM IEEE-CS Eckert-Mauchly Award posthumously in 2017. The Microsoft Research “Charles Thacker Breakthrough Award” was named in his honor.