Programming for the Alto's Mesa

Toby Thain toby at
Tue Jun 21 09:17:18 CDT 2016

On 2016-06-21 9:46 AM, Liam Proven wrote:
>>From the discussions around Y Combinator's Alto restoration...
> (Some may not know that the founder of Y Combinator is Paul Graham,
> using some of the money Yahoo! paid him for Viaweb, which became Yahoo
> Stores. PG is a Lisp champion and evangelist.)
> The Alto restoration is being discussed on Hacker News, Y Combinator's
> very successful forums:
> This comment struck me:
> «
> Animats 2 days ago
> I just looked in some boxes I haven't opened in decades. I have "Mesa
> Language Manual, Version 5.0, April 1979". If the people with the Alto
> need this, let me know.
> If the world had used Mesa instead of C, computing would have been far
> less buggy.

That's for certain. It's one of several systems programming languages 
with safety: the Solo operating system in Concurrent Pascal is another 

 > Mesa was a hard-compiled language, but it had concurrency,
> monitors, co-routines ("ports", similar to Go channels), strong type
> safety, and a sane way to pass arrays around. In the 1970s.
> (I should donate this stuff to the Computer Museum. I just found the

Scan & publish the documents first, if that can be done without 
guillotining -- because they won't.

[Actually if anyone knows who accepts paper documents, please comment; 
currently I know Jason Scott / Internet Archive does? I plan to scan a 
lot of what I have then divest the paper.]

> original DEC Small Computer Manual, many 1960s UNIVAC mainframe
> manuals, and a reel of UNIVAC I steel magnetic tape.)
> »
> I knew that the original Smalltalk boxes weren't Smalltalk all the way
> down to the metal, and that there was an OS and language, Mesa,
> underneath... but I didn't know it was used for anything much *else*
> or that some considered it important.
> Anyone here know or remember Mesa? I'd like to hear more about it.

The operating system "Pilot" was written in Mesa. A relevant paper is 
reprinted in Brinch Hansen's "Classic Operating Systems": "Pilot: An 
Operating System for a Personal Computer" (1980).

Another paper cited in the book is "Early experience with Mesa," 
Geschke, C.M., J.H. Morris Jr., and E.H. Satterthwaite, Comm. ACM 20, 8 
(Aug 1977). (later, Geschke was a cofounder of Adobe Systems).


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