The Laureates

Copyright © Klaus Tschira Stiftung / Peter Badge

Butler W. Lampson

Born 23 December 1943, Washington, D.C., USA

ACM A.M. Turing Award (1992) “for contributions to the development of distributed, personal computing environments and the technology for their implementation: workstations, networks, operating systems, programming systems, displays, security and document publishing”

Lampson went to school at Lawrenceville, an elite boarding school near Princeton. It was here that he first came into contact with computing: a classmate had organized access to an IBM 650 at the University of Princeton when it was not being used for research. Lampson initially studied physics at Harvard (B.A. 1964) and then went to the University of California, Berkeley as a graduate student in physics. There he settled on Computer Science as his research field (Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science 1967). He remained at Berkeley and worked from 1969 at the newly-founded Berkeley Computer Corporation (BCC) on a new computer for the university. In 1971 he moved to the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in Palo Alto, California. When the established research group broke apart in 1984, Lampson went with several colleagues to the Systems Research Center of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). In 1987 he moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, because his wife Lois took a teaching position at Harvard Medical School. He continued working for DEC, and was at the same time adjunct professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In 1995 Lampson transferred to Microsoft, where he still works as a Technical Fellow.

Butler W. Lampson holds numerous awards, including the ACM Software System Award (1984), the IEEE von Neumann Medal (2001) and the National Academy of Engineering Draper Prize (2004). He is a member of the National Academies of Sciences and of Engineering (1984), of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1993), and of the Association for Computing Machinery (1994). He also holds honorary doctorates from the ETH Zurich (1986) and the University of Bologna (1996).

Lampson’s first major work was in the late 1960s on Project Genie at the University of Berkeley, in which a Scientific Data Systems SDS 930 computer was equipped with a time-sharing system that allowed multiple processes to be run simultaneously. Later SDS made the project commercially available and sold it as the first general purpose time-sharing system. Butler developed parts of the operating system and created new programming languages, including the language CAL, which allowed users to define functions and to perform numerical calculations.

The next big step came in 1969 with the Berkeley Computer Corporation (BCC). Here, Lampson designed and coded large parts of the microcode for the operating system and helped in developing the SPL system programming language. He also devised the access matrix model for computer security.

He then brought his expertise to the task of building Alto at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). The Alto is a 1973 computer considered the first real PC. Butler Lampson wrote the operating system and was involved in the design of its laser printer and driver. Part of the Alto software package was a program called “Bravo”, which was the first What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get text editor and is considered to be one of the origins of Microsoft Word. Bravo was designed by Butler Lampson and Charles Simonyi.

In the following years, Butler Lampson co-developed lots of concepts and languages; many of them became the foundations of modern software systems. Examples are the system programming language Mesa or the language Euclid, which is the first language specifically designed to the use in program verification. Lampson also devised Modula 2+ as an extension of Niklaus Wirth’s Modula 2, which provided automatic storage deallocation and concurrency, among others.

He also helped in enhancing computer security, especially while working for Systems Research Center (SRC) of DEC. There, he contributed to the development of the first distributed authentication schemes for email.

Later, he also focused on the development of protocols. Together with Nancy Lynch he developed and drew up the TCP connection establishment specifications and he developed Paxos, a set of protocols for solving problems in a network of unreliable processors.