AltaVista was a Web search engine established in 1995. It became one of the most-used early search engines, but lost ground to Google and was purchased by Yahoo! in 2003, which retained the brand, but based all AltaVista searches on its own search engine.
AltaVista was created by researchers at Digital Equipment Corporation's Network Systems Laboratory and Western Research Laboratory who were trying to provide services to make finding files on the public network easier.
Good ideas, strong equipment, and a strange fascination with keeping track of email brought AltaVista out of DEC's Research lab and into the Internet world. In the spring of 1995, three DEC employees (Louis Monier, Joella Paquette and Paul Flaherty) began talking about Digital's new Alpha 8400 (nicknamed TurboLaser) computers over lunch. TurboLasers promised to run database software a hundred times faster than the competition. Somewhere between bites of lunch, the idea of using TurboLasers to host a searchable full-text database of the Web was born.
Let's just say the research lab had an unusual fascination with keeping track of old email. Mike B. (a researcher) had created a very precise email index to keep track of bulletin board conversations posted over the past 10 years. The index was really good at finding very specific snippets of information in the volumes of stored email. The researchers used this tool to settle fierce technical debates. This full-text search framework became the foundation of AltaVista. Our search engine now helps people find specific topics in the gigantic haystack of the World Wide Web.
The idea for the name AltaVista originally came from a white board that hadn't been erased properly. The word Alto (of Palo Alto) was placed beside the word Vista and someone yelled out "How about AltoVista!" and then it became AltaVista, meaning "The view from above."