Xerox Notetaker – Complete History of the Xerox Notetaker Computer

Xerox Notetaker

In 1976 a Xerox Corporation team, lead by Douglas G. Fairbairn (who used to work on the famous Xerox Alto project, which pioneered the graphical user interface), working at Xerox Corporation PARC in Palo Alto, California, developed the Xerox NoteTaker, an early portable computer, which strongly influenced the design of some later computers like Osborne 1 and Compaq Portable.

NoteTaker relied heavily on the earlier Dynabook project of Alan Kay (although it was not so advanced regarding its time), and just like it, it did not enter production, and only around ten prototypes were built.

The NoteTaker computer (see NoteTaker System Manual) weighted some 22 kg and was built using what was then highly advanced technology, including a built-in monochrome display monitor, a 340K bytes floppy disk drive and a mouse. It fitted into a case similar in form to that of a portable sewing machine; the keyboard folded out from the bottom to reveal the monitor and the floppy drive. NoteTaker used a version of the Smalltalk-78 operating system that was written for the Xerox Alto computer.

Xerox NoteTaker

The Xerox NoteTaker of 1976

NoteTaker featured some very advanced hardware: a central CPU with 1 MHz Intel 8086 processor and 4K 16-bit words local memory; a minimum of 128 kB of 16-bit RAM; 7″ diagonal CRT displaying 640 dots horizontally and 480 dots in the vertical direction; a 300 bps modem; a 2″ speaker for audio output; a transparent overlay tablet for pointing on the screen; and analog-to-digital converter with an 8 input multiplexer on the input, and a two channel digital-to-analog converter; interfaces—ethernet, EiA, and IEEE bus interface.

The architecture of NoteTaker is such that a small number of processors can be operated in parallel, thus the system offered a useful platform for experimenting with multiprocessor architectures.

The NoteTaker had never been produced commercially, but including so much advanced technologies, it would likely have cost in excess of USD 50,000.