Modern computers get many influences from many sources, but one of them far outshines all the others. Its signficance, though, is "more honoured in the breach than in the observance", as Shakespeare put it. More retellings distort the history than do it justice.
The Alto was an experimental machine built by boffins in Xerox's Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC) in the early 1970s to explore new thinking in user interface design, and while never made available commercially – Xerox would sell the Star, a version of the Alto, in 1981 – a couple of thousand were made for use by Xerox staff and some were donated to universities and research facilities. Arguably the first personal computer – though some historians consider it a minicomputer – it was also the first to feature a graphical interface controlled by a mouse and to incorporate networking.
He mentions two of the three defining features of the machine: it was the first single-user GUI-driven machine, but also, it was the first networked workstation. Before even the concept of the "personal computer" had been dreamed up, and at around the same time as Intel was building the first microprocessors, the giant brains at PARC were not only designing the personal GUI workstation, they were also building a local-area network to link them up. The Alto's network became Ethernet, co-designed by 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe, along with the late David Boggs and the late Alto hardware designer Chuck Thacker.
The third significant thing about the Alto was that it was the machine that made object-oriented programming mainstream. These were the three significant aspects of the machine: the first GUI PC, the first networked PC, and the machine that drove OOPS into the mainstream. That is according to Steve Jobs, anyway:
Some of the greats/partial list. :)
Lest we forget, alto also relates to singers as well. :)