You’ve likely heard stories about the birth of the PC: of Xerox PARC as the Mecca of computing; of its creation of the Alto, Ethernet, and the laser printer; of the Homebrew Computer Club, the MITS Altair, Bill Gates and the theft of his Micro-soft Basic; of Steve Jobs and Stephen Wozniak, the founding of Apple, and the Jobs visit to PARC that inspired the Macintosh.
But what you may not know about is the really early history. The stories of Doug Engelbart and John McCarthy, of the Augmentation Research Center, and of the early days of the Stanford University AI Lab (SAIL) are not well known. Yes, you may have heard that Engelbart invented the mouse, and that SAIL and Stanford led to companies like Sun and Cisco. But there are better stories, great and old ones from the early days of computing, about the events that led to personal computing as we know it.
In his wonderful new book, What the Dormouse Said…, John Markoff tells these stories. Markoff was born in Oakland, CA, and has been covering Silicon Valley for the New York Times for more than a decade. From a distinctly West Coast perspective, Dormouse chronicles the origins of the personal computer and its place in the Bay Area culture of the 1960s. Having lived, intensely, the later part of this story, I am fascinated by the great back stories of people I came to know and, often, work with. Many of these stories were only vaguely familiar; many more, I’d never heard.