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Location: GUIs > Xerox > SALTO - The Xerox Alto Simulator

SALTO - The Xerox Alto Simulator
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It is fairly well accepted that the Xerox Alto is where the world of GUIs all began. Now you can relive the Alto experience for yourself with SALTO, the Xerox Alto Simulator!

SALTO doesn't appear to have a proper home page on the web, so for your convenience I have put together a download with disk images here: SALTO.ZIP

The compiled executable is from here:
And the source can be found here:
Alto software user manuals are located here:

SALTO is kind of buggy. The cursor shakes, video gets corrupted, applications crash, you can not permanently save changes to disk, and ethernet is not implemented. But it is enough to start up some of the applications and see what it was all about.

The Xerox Alto and the included applications represent the early exploration, research, successes, and mistakes of GUI/UI concepts.

Alto Executive
The included disk images start up to the Alto Executive. The Executive is a command line interpreter used for file management and executing programs. It is similar to the DOS command interpreter.

Several versions of the Executive are included on the disk images: Executive/7 dated October 14, 1976, Executive/11 dated June 26, 1980, and Executive/12 dated January 8, 1983.

A few interesting features:

  • Input and output only occur in a 16-line "window" at the top of the screen.
  • NOT case sensitive!
  • Can use wildcards to refer to files. For example "*.run?" lists all runable program files.
The Alto is a single tasking environment, and applications take complete control of the system and the screen when you run them. Again, this is similar to running graphical applications under DOS.

The emulator needs a host display greater than 800 pixels high to fit the Alto's 606*808 display. Just to show how far we have not come, many "modern" displays can not quite handle that.

Alto Neptune
This is Neptune, the Alto file manager.

Using the mouse you can select different drives or directories, select or unselect individual files, and initiate an action by clicking the "start" button. (A "start" button? It is already better than Windows 8!)

The interesting thing about Neptune is that it exclusively uses the mouse to perform all actions. This is in contrast to other Alto programs that only use the mouse to point, but then require you to press a command key on the keyboard to initiate an action.

There is a scroll bar of sorts on the left of each file list. The "bar" is not visibly drawn, but clicking in this area scrolls the list. The mouse cursor changes shape when it hovers over this area, and each of the three mouse buttons are used to perform different scrolling actions.

You can also view or "type" a text file within Neptune.

Alto Mouse
The Alto went through several variations of mice. One of these used colored horizontal buttons. As such, the applications and all of the documentation refer to each button by color: Red, Yellow, or Blue.

Alto Bravo
Bravo is the Alto's word processor. It was the first "What You See Is What You Get" word processing system.

Text is formatted on the screen as it would be on a printer. This includes different fonts, font sizes, super/subsubscript, bold, italics, and more. And changes to the document are immediately applied on the screen.

Although the output functionality was revolutionary, the input functionality was similar to other editors of the time. Unlike modern editors, you don't just start typing. Instead you have to type a command from the keyboard. There are no menus of any kind. For a list of available commands you must read the manual. In Bravo, the mouse is mostly used for selecting text.

Similar to Neptune, there is an invisible scroll bar at the left of the screen that you can use with the mouse to scroll the text area.

Alto Draw
Draw is a vector based drawing program. Instead of a bit-mapped imaged, draw images consist of connected points with properties. You can copy, stretch, and transform each object independently.

Draw has a visible tool pallet along the left side of the screen. You can click on any item to select a brush or tool.

Similar to Bravo, Draw does not have a visible command menu for its additional functions (such as opening a file). You must use the keyboard instead. Inconsistently, Draw uses Control key combinations. Again, read the manual to find out what the keys are.

Alto Markup
Markup is a bit-mapped drawing program. The available drawing tools are geared toward document illustration.

Unlike the other applications, all commands are done from a pop up menu invoked by clicking the middle mouse button.

Alto Markup Pop Up Menu
The pop up menu is kind of weird. It start by showing just one line of the menu, and expands as you move the mouse around. Very awkward if you don't know that a menu item is supposed to be there. To show "quit" you must move the mouse slightly past where it will appear.

The "+" on the right adds a page. Selectable page numbers appear at the left or right if present.

Note that running under SALTO, Markup is very crashy.

Alto Laurel
"Laurel" is the e-mail client for the Alto.

On a network, an Alto user could send and receive e-mail from other users through a centralized mail server. Since there is no mail server or ethernet in SALTO, I have loaded a tutorial mail file.

Several interesting user interface features: Text items act as command buttons that you can click on, and the toolbar/commandbars expand and contract if they prompt for additional information.