MARKS OF ESTEEM
History of the Microcomputer Revolution
What good is a computer without software?
Paul Allen and Bill Gates had written and sent the letter using
letterhead they had created for their high school computer company - Traf-o-Data. Bill was attending Harvard, and Paul
was working in the Boston area for Honeywell. They had sent the letter - planning to do a phone followup. They soon called
Ed Roberts in Albuquerque to see if he’d be interested in their Basic, (which didn’t actually exist yet), and he said
that he would be as soon as he could get some memory cards for the Altair so it would have enough memory to try to run
Basic; maybe in a month or so.
Herein begins some of the most misunderstood facts of the microcomputer revolution,
so pay close attention. Also remember that way back in the 2nd show of this series I told you that DEC minicomputers
played an important role, and now we’ll learn how.
Gates and Allen figured they had a 30 day window (if you’ll pardon
the pun) to get a version of Basic ready to run on the Altair microcomputer. But they didn’t have
didn’t have a microcomputer to develop this with, because the only microcomputer in the Seems like a
Catch 22 situation - but wait.
They hadn’t had an 8008 processor either, which they used in their
high school computer company Traf-o-Data - which measured vehicle traffic flow. So how did they program an 8008 earlier
without having one?
Well, when Paul Allen was a student at WSU he had actually tried
to create a simulator on the IBM mainframe there, but he wasn’t familiar enough with mainframes to make it work. When they
later got a summer job at a company that used DEC minicomputers, Paul was able to create a simulator of the Intel 8008
on the DEC computer
. Being intimately familiar with DECs from the ground up, and having the Intel manual for the
8008, Paul had written a program on the DEC which would simulate the exact operation of the Intel chip. Then Bill Gates was
able to use this simulator to write the program which ran their Traf-o-Data computer.
Having developed this software tool previously, they used it again
to create a simulator on another DEC computer at Harvard,
this time for the Intel 8080. The Basic language they didn’t actually write from scratch. Basic had been released into
the public domain, so they used bits and pieces from various dialects of different versions of Basic to come up with their
own to run on the Altair. This was a frantic few weeks, while they both worked and attended school, and spent their evenings
in the school’s computer labs. Then, still having never touched an Altair computer, Paul Allen flew to meet Ed Roberts at
MITS in Albuquerque with a paper tape of their just completed version of Basic to try out on the Altair 8800. And miraculously
it worked the first time.
Finally there was usable software to make this computer really useful,
and to change the world. Paul Allen quit his job and went to work at MITS. Bill Gates soon dropped out of Harvard and
moved to Albuquerque too. They authorized MITS to sell their Basic as part of the Altair kit. They also retained the rights
to market it themselves. A lot of controversy arose over whether it was really theirs to sell in the first place, as the boys
had used government funded computers to develop their Basic on, and as Basic was in the public domain. Many of the early
hackers fiercely resented this, and early copies of Altair Basic were pirated and passed from user to user.
Gates and Allen eventually formed their own company, Micro Soft
- originally spelled as two words - there in Albuquerque. Within months, they were modifying their Basic to run on other
early microcomputers. They got into a law suit with Ed Roberts over the rights to Basic, and eventually won. Ed Roberts sold
out and retired from the industry he had started himself within a year, and is now a country doctor in Georgia. Microsoft
began doing business with other emerging companies, and next week’s show is titled "Send in the clones."
History of the Microcomputer Revolution
The Historic Background.
The Revolution Begins.
The Washington State Connection.
High School Kid’s Computer Company.
The World’s First Commercially Available PC.
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?.