“I’m still recovering,” Thacker said today. He found out a few weeks ago, and the award will be presented in June. The honor comes with a $250,000 prize.
The Association for Computing Machinery named Charles Thacker, who goes by Chuck, the 2009 winner today. The association said in a statement that Thacker was chosen for his work on building Alto, the first modern personal computer. The machine, which came out in 1974, became a prototype for networked personal computers.
Thacker, now 67, designed Alto while he was working for Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, also known as Xerox PARC.
“His enduring achievements — from his initial innovations on the PC to his leadership in hardware development of the multiprocessor workstation to his role in developing the tablet PC — have profoundly affected the course of modern computing,” said association president Dame Wendy Hall in a statement.
The Alto revolutionized computing with a TV-like display that led to the development of the graphical user interface and displaced text-based computer screens. Thacker joined Microsoft in 1997.
“You have to understand that I’ve never thought that I would get the Turing award because the last time the Turing award was awarded to someone who built computers as their primary work, that was over 40 years,” he said. “It’s usually awarded to either software folks or theoreticians. And I’m not either.”
Thacker is based in Palo Alto and works for Microsoft in Silicon Valley. He is now conducting research on computer architecture.
He said he plans to give the prize money away to universities, which he has done in the past with other awards.
“You can get tickets to football games,” he said. But “you cannot get parking passes.”
Here is the association’s announcement.