Ed Roberts passed away yesterday at the age of 68. Mr. Roberts designed the Altair 8800, a machine many credit as being the first personal computer. Roberts established Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) which introduced the Altair in 1975. The Altair was featured on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine in January 1975 where it came to the attention of a young man named Paul Allen who then showed it to his friend Bill Gates. The duo contacted Roberts at MITS in Albuquerque, NM and offered to create a version of the BASIC programming language for the machine. Gates and Allen set up a company then called Micro-Soft with its first office in Albuquerque to work on the programming language.
"Ed was willing to take a chance on us -- two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace -- and we have always been grateful to him."
"The day our first untested software worked on his Altair was the start of a lot of great things. We will always have many fond memories of working with Ed in Albuquerque, in the MITS office right on Route 66."
"He was an intense man with a great sense of humor, and he always cared deeply about the people who worked for him, including us," Gates and Allen said.
Dr. Roberts left the computer business in the 1970s, selling MITS and moving to Georgia where he studied medicine and eventually became a country doctor.
The Altair 8800 was sold in kit form for $395 and could also be purchased assembled for $495. Based on an Intel 8080 2 MHz processor, the computer came with 256 bytes RAM standard and lacked any form of input or output other than the eight toggle switches whose setting were indicated by a set of flashing lights on the front panel. On a personal note, I have fond memories of sitting in front of one these machines, setting the toggle switches individually to program each line of code as an engineer read them off. We were using the machine in the late 70s to program EPROMS used to control PDP11 mini-computers prior to the advent of user-friendly UIs.