The Draper Prize

2004 Winners: Alan C. Kay, Butler W. Lampson, Robert W. Taylor, and Charles P. Thacker

For the vision, conception, and development of the first practical networked personal computers.


Dr. Alan Kay is one of the earliest pioneers of object-oriented programming, personal computing, and graphical user interfaces.

While at the ARPA project at the University of Utah in the late 1960s, he invented dynamic object-oriented programming, was part of the original team that developed continuous-tone 3D graphics; was the co-designer of the FLEX Machine, an early desktop computer with graphical user interface and object-oriented operating system; participated in the design of the ARPAnet; and, inspired by children, conceived the Dynabook, a laptop personal computer for children of all ages.

At Xerox PARC he invented Smalltalk, the first completely object-oriented programming, authoring and operating system (which included the now ubiquitous overlapping window interface), instigated the bit-map screen, screen painting and animation; participated in desktop publishing, other desktop media, and the development of the Alto, the first modern networked personal computer. This was part of the larger process at PARC that created an entire genre of personal computing, including the GUI, Ethernet, Laserprinting, modern word processing, client-servers, and peer-peer networking.

He has a B.A. in mathematics and biology with minor concentrations in English and anthropology from the University of Colorado, 1966; M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science (1968 and 1969, both with distinction) from the University of Utah; and honorary doctorates from the Kungl Tekniska Hoegskolan in Stockholm, Columbia College in Chicago, and Georgia Tech.

He has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Arts, and the Computer History Museum.

Kay is also deeply involved in the One Laptop Per Child initiative that seeks to create a Dynabook-like “$100 laptop” for every child in the world (especially in the third world). Outside of computing, Kay entered show business in the 1950s as a professional jazz guitarist. Much of his subsequent work combined music and theatrical production. Today he is an avid amateur classical pipe organist.

Butler W. Lampson is currently a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft Research working on security, fault-tolerance, and user interfaces. As the Alto’s system architect, Lampson designed all and wrote much of the operating system for the machine, and he was later instrumental in adding further capabilities, most notably the laser printer. His innovations while at Xerox PARC included developing the techniques that allowed the first "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" (WYSIWYG) text editor to run successfully. In addition, he was one of the designers of the SDS 940 time-sharing system, the Xerox 9700 laser printer, two-phase commit protocols, the Autonet LAN, the Simple Distributed Security Infrastructure (SDSI) system for network security, the Microsoft Tablet PC software, and several programming languages.

Lampson is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of the ACM and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the ACM Software Systems Award in 1984 for his work on the Alto, the IEEE Computer Pioneer award in 1996, the National Computer Systems Security Award in 1998, the IEEE von Neumann Medal in 2001, and the Turing Award in 1992.

Lampson received his bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University, a doctorate in electrical engineering and computer sciences from the University of California at Berkeley, and honorary doctor of science degrees from the Eidgenossische Technische Hochschule, Zurich, and the University of Bologna.

As founder and manager of the Computer Science Laboratory at Xerox PARC from 1970 through 1983, Robert W. Taylor recruited fellow Draper Prize recipients Kay, Lampson, and Thacker, in addition to the industry-leading cast of talented computer researchers that came after them at Xerox PARC. An acknowledged genius at assembling outstanding teams of researchers, suggesting avenues of exploration, and motivating colleagues to push the technological envelope, Mr. Taylor was instrumental in creating PARC’s exceptional record of innovation and accomplishment.

Before Xerox PARC, Taylor was Director of the Information Processing Techniques Office of ARPA in the Department of Defense, where he supported key research underlying much of the fundamental technology in today’s computer industry. While there, he initiated a project to build the first packet network, the ARPANet, which would become the direct ancestor of today’s Internet. In 1983, Taylor founded the Systems Research Center of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), which he managed until his retirement in 1996.

Taylor is a Fellow of the ACM and received its Software Systems Award in 1984. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1991. In 1999, the President of the United States awarded him the National Medal of Technology "for visionary leadership in the development of modern computing technology, including computer networks, the personal computer and the graphical user interface"

Responsible for engineering the hardware for Alto, Charles P. Thacker wrote much of its microcode and can be credited, together with Butler Lampson, for the superb economy of the Alto’s design. Constructing the first batch of Altos himself, Thacker oversaw production for the rest, as well as devising its packaging.

In 1983, Thacker was a founder of the Systems Research Center at DEC, and in 1997, he joined Microsoft Research to help establish the Microsoft lab in the United Kingdom. He joined Microsoft’s Emerging Technology Group as Distinguished Engineer in 1999. Thacker has led teams that have designed a number of innovative networks and computer systems over the years, including the first multiprocessor personal workstation, the first system to employ the DEC Alpha chip, the Autonet, and AN2 local area networks, and the Microsoft Tablet PC.

Widely recognized for his contributions to the industry, Thacker was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is a distinguished alumnus of the Computer Science Department at the University of California, is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a fellow of the ACM, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Personal Computer

One of the earliest and most influential personal computers was the Alto, developed at Xerox PARC in 1973. Although much larger than modern PCs – it was about the size of a small refrigerator – the Alto used a desktop monitor and keyboard that made it useful for personal computing. It also featured a number of innovations that would find their way into later generations of PCs. These included a mouse for input; a graphical user interface that allowed overlapping windows; a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) text editor; and fast networking through an Ethernet card. The Alto was a prototype machine – it was never intended to be produced commercially – but proved so popular that Xerox made about 2,000 units over the course of the next decade.