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Microsoft boffin scoops Turing Award

Hardware guru wins computing's 'Nobel prize'

Broken CD with wrench

A Microsoft researcher has received the Turing Award in recognition for his pioneering work in personal computing hardware and networking technology development.

Chuck Thacker, 67, received the computing industry's equivalent of a Nobel prize on Tuesday for his work on the Alto personal computer and Ethernet networking at Xerox's famed Palo Alto Research Center, as well as his development of a prototype Tablet PC at Microsoft.

Thacker, who works in Microsoft's Silicon Valley research lab, expressed surprise at receiving the award, which for years has gone to computer scientists or software developers rather than hardware gurus like himself.

A technical fellow at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, Thacker helped to develop a prototype for a Tablet PC while at Microsoft's Cambridge research labs in the late 90s before going on to focus on developing a reprogrammable computer hardware platform, codenamed BEE3.

The Turing Award, bestowed annually by the Association for Computing Machinery and named after wartime cryptographer and computing pioneer Alan Turing, comes with a prize of $250,000. It is awarded to individuals who make contributions of "lasting and major technical importance" to computing. ACM's citation for Thacker salutes achievements that span multiple decades of research.

Charles P (Chuck) Thacker is a pioneering architect, inventor, designer, and builder of many of today's key personal computing and network technologies. During the 70s and early 80s at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Chuck was a central systems designer and main pragmatic engineering force behind many of PARC's technologies, including: Alto, the first modern personal computer with a bit-map screen to run graphical user interfaces with WYSIWYG fidelity and interaction. All of today's personal computers with bit-map screens and graphical user interfaces descend directly from the Alto.

In addition, he invented the snooping cache coherence protocols used in nearly all small-scale shared-memory multiprocessors, pioneered the design of high-performance, high-availability packet- or cell-switched local area networks in the AN1 and AN2, and designed the Firefly, the first multiprocessor workstation. Almost 30 years after the Alto Chuck designed and built the prototype for the most used tablet PCs today.

Microsoft has a tribute to Thacker's work on its website here. Thacker is the fourth Microsoft researcher to receive the award and the first hardware guru to receive the award since Britain’s Maurice Wilkes in 1967.

Thacker's pioneering work on the Alto and on computer networking was previously recognised with the award of the IEEE’s John Von Neumann medal, another prestigious computing award, in 2007. ®

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