MARKS OF ESTEEM
History of the Microcomputer Revolution
High School Kid’s Computer Company
In 1971, The Intel Corporation introduced the 4004 microprocessor
chip which began the microcomputer revolution. The 4004 was limited in power and was more of an industrial controller
than a general purpose computer chip. The architecture of the chip worked with 4 bits of data as its basic unit. 4 bits
of data can be used to express computer instructions, but not characters or letters. Even the old teletype machines
used a 5 bit code to represent uppercase characters only.
Less than a year later, Intel introduced the 8008 - an 8 bit computer
on a chip. With an 8 bit architecture, you can do a lot of things. With 8 bits you can express computer instructions,
upper and lower case characters, numbers, and symbols. In computer terms, 8 bits of data comprises a byte, as in "Raw
Intel’s introduction made a lot of people take notice. One of them
was Paul Allen, who read about it while attending Washington State University. He and his friend Bill Gates had already
worked summers at a variety of computer jobs which provided them with invaluable on-the-job computer learning experience.
In 1971 the boys had started a part-time company named Traf-O-Data related to traffic analysis
. We’ve all seen those boxes with rubber hoses that stretch across a road
that cities use to count cars. The cars rolled over the hose, and inside the box a device punched holes in a paper tape.
The paper tapes were then transcribed by people onto punched computer cards, and these cards were then entered into a big
computer which analyzed the data and produced reports . The boys had hired other students to do this data entry, but they
knew there had to be a better way.
As soon as Paul Allen read about Intel’s 8008 microprocessor
he realized this chip had the power to do some real work. In 1972 they bought one of the first 8008 chips for $ 360,
and hired a Boeing engineer to design and build the electronics. Their idea was to be able to have their device read the paper
traffic tapes and convert this raw data into computer format - eliminating the manual data entry. They had a modest amount
of success with their device and sold it to several cities. This experience with electro-mechanical devices and a very
early microprocessor may have reinforced their belief that software - not hardware - was their future.
Paul Allen tired of college and dropped out to become a programmer
at a northwest computer company. In 1973 Bill Gates enrolled in Harvard and applied for a summer computer job at Honeywell.
He was able to get his friend Paul a job at Honeywell also, so Paul left Washington to travel to Boston. The two friends
were together again, pursuing their dreams of starting their own computer company.
In 1974 Intel introduced the 8080 - the first true general purpose
microprocessor. Using new technology, this chip offered 10 times the performance.
In January 1975, Popular Electronics magazine’s cover featured
a picture of a computer and a related cover story which read:
"Project Breakthrough! World’s first minicomputer kit to rival commercial
models - the Altair 8800 ".
The story went on to say that this was a complete minicomputer
kit anyone could purchase for under $ 400.00.
In historical perspective there were a few minor inaccuracies
here I’ll point out.
The picture was actually a mockup - not the real computer. The
real one had been lost in shipment to the magazine.
It was not truly the world’s first minicomputer kit - there had
been other earlier computers in kit forms.
It wasn’t a minicomputer - It was actually a microcomputer -
using the Intel microprocessor - but the term microcomputer
hadn’t been invented yet.
But it was enough to make Paul Allen go running off to tell his
friend that the revolution had truly begun, and we’ll hear more about that next week on Raw Bytes.
History of the Microcomputer Revolution
The Historic Background.
The Revolution Begins.
The Washington State Connection.
The World’s First Commercially Available PC.
What good is a computer without Software?.
Send in the Clones.
The First Operating System Standard.
Home Brewing and Computers Named Apple.
The Killer Application.
The Deal of The Century.
A Walk in the PARC.
Send in the Clones again - Freud would have said GUI-Envy.
The PC Industry at Age 11 in 1986.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken?.