Charles P. Thacker, a pioneering engineer in the early days of personal computing, died this week at his home in Palo Alto, California. His daughter, Christine Thacker, tells The New York Times that the cause of death was due to complications from esophageal cancer. He was 74.

Thacker was born in Pasadena, California, in 1943 and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967 with a B.S. degree in physics. Thacker's claim to fame came in the 1970s when he led the team that worked on the Xerox Alto at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Among other innovations, the Alto was significant as it was the first desktop computer to feature a mouse-driven graphical user interface (GUI).

As highlighted in our write-up on the history of the personal computer a few years back, the Alto is often remembered as an expensive failure that was largely over-engineered. It was never really a commercial success yet its impact on the industry is still felt today.

"Chuck" eventually left Xerox and later in his career, joined Microsoft to help establish the company's research center in Cambridge, England. Adding to his resume a few years later, he designed the hardware used in Microsoft's Tablet PC which was loosely based on a project he worked on years earlier called the Dynabook.

Thacker was awarded the Association for Computing Machinery's A.M. Turing Award in 2009.

Image courtesy Noah Berger, The New York Times