It would seem the Alto meets the criteria but it's often left out of the workstation category; the same goes for the CADR. Thoughts? It's my impression the workstation concept and associated machines appeared around 1980. Larsbrinkhoff (talk) 07:09, 24 March 2021 (CET)
- To suggest an answer to my own question, maybe a weak criterion would be that a workstation is often built around a microprocessor. Larsbrinkhoff (talk) 07:25, 24 March 2021 (CET)
Interesting question! I think the reason the Alto doesn't (usually - I did previously put it in Category:Workstations here :-) get thought of as a 'workstation' is mostly (for us older folks :-) because it appeared before the concept of a 'workstation' appeared; i.e. we'd previously mentally tagged it as something else, and when the 'workstation' tag appeared, we didn't go back and mentally re-categorize it. It's also possibly because 'workstations' were (at least, as I recall) often targeted at computationally demanding uses (ones beyond low-end PC's) - and the Alto was not really well-endowed with computing 'crunch' (and certainly not used for computationally demanding tasks like modelling, etc).
I'm not sure the 'microprocessor' thing is much use, because the world pretty quickly moved to the situation today, where custom CPUs made out of discrete components just aren't built anymore (for computationally demanding applications, or anything else) - everything now uses microprocessors. (The main distinction now is between 'commodity', mass-volume devices, and custom units used in today's supercomputers.)
To circle back to 'what's a workstation, and how is it different from early 'single-user computers' ' (to invent a new term, to avoid confusion with 'personal computer' (maybe I should add that here as a new category, and split it off from Category: Personal Computers), for things like the LINC), I have this impression that workstations were usually intended to be statically allocated 'per user', and people would have their workstation in their office (along with their phone).
This sometimes breaks down a bit - Altos were almost always individual's computers, whereas early LISP Machines weren't really (although some had their displays/keyboards in individual offices) but that may have been partially because they were physically larger, and also fairly expensive. That might also have applied to early very high end workstations like high-end SGI machines, but I know little of how they were used.