Dusty Decks: Preserving historic software

Oral history of Robert W. Taylor

Robert W. Taylor directed external research at NASA, where he funded early work by Douglas Engelbart, and at the ARPA IPTO, where he initiated the ARPANET project. He also founded the Xerox PARC Computer Science Laboratory and later the DEC Systems Research Center. Last fall I interviewed him for the Computer History Museum‘s Oral History Collection. The transcript, based on two afternoons of interviewing captured on six videotapes, has been edited and is now online: catalog entry; transcript (PDF).

Here are summaries of the contents (corresponding to the six videotapes):

  1. Taylor’s childhood, education, military service in the US Navy during the Korean War, and his first positions after graduating from college: teaching at a prep school in Florida, and systems engineering at The Martin Company in Orlando, Florida; managing research at NASA and at ARPA IPTO.
  2. The ARPANET project, the founding of the graphics work at the University of Utah; his own brief stay at the University of Utah; the founding and early history of the Xerox PARC Computer Science Laboratory (CSL); Xerox’s purchase of Scientific Data Systems (SDS), and CSL’s MAXC, Alto, and EARS projects.
  3. More on the Alto system and what it influenced (including TCP/IP); the Future Day held by PARC for Xerox executives; the Dorado project.
  4. His departure from Xerox; the founding of the DEC Systems Research Center (SRC); the Firefly, Alpha Demonstration Unit, Autonet, AN2, and Petal projects; the founding of the DEC Paris Research Laboratory and its collaboration with SRC; the nearby DEC Western Research Laboratory (WRL) and its Titan project; a recap of the commercialization of Ethernet.
  5. Wes Clark, his TX-2 work, his LINC work, and his suggestion of decentralizing control for the ARPANET via a small computer (IMP) at every host; Taylor’s work in Vietnam at the end of his ARPA tenure; his approach to research management, including recruiting, interviewing, and performance appraisals.
  6. More on research management: informal celebrations, and the importance of a college intern program; reminiscences about people who worked at Xerox PARC CSL or DEC SRC or both.