Bill Gates: Altair 8800

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pages: 528 words: 146,459

Computer: A History of the Information Machine by Martin Campbell-Kelly, William Aspray, Nathan L. Ensmenger, Jeffrey R. Yost


Ada Lovelace, air freight, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, barriers to entry, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, borderless world, Buckminster Fuller, Build a better mousetrap, Byte Shop, card file, cashless society, cloud computing, combinatorial explosion, computer age, don't be evil, Douglas Engelbart, Dynabook, Fellow of the Royal Society, financial independence, game design, garden city movement, informal economy, interchangeable parts, invention of the wheel, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, John von Neumann, linked data, Mark Zuckerberg, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, natural language processing, Network effects, New Journalism, Occupy movement, optical character recognition, packet switching, PageRank, pattern recognition, pirate software, popular electronics, prediction markets, pre–internet, QWERTY keyboard, RAND corporation, Robert X Cringely, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Steve Jobs, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, the market place, Turing machine, Vannevar Bush, Von Neumann architecture, Whole Earth Catalog, William Shockley: the traitorous eight, women in the workforce, young professional

The Altair 8800 was unprecedented and in no sense a “rational” product; it would appeal only to an electronics hobbyist of the most dedicated kind, and even that was not guaranteed. Despite its many shortcomings, the Altair 8800 was the grit around which the pearl of the personal-computer industry grew during the next two years. The limitations of the Altair 8800 created the opportunity for small-time entrepreneurs to develop “add-on” boards so that extra memory, conventional teletypes, and audiocassette recorders (for permanent data storage) could be added to the basic machine. Almost all of these start-up companies consisted of two or three people—mostly computer hobbyists hoping to turn their pastime to profit. A few other entrepreneurs developed software for the Altair 8800. The most important of the early software entrepreneurs was Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft. Although his ultimate financial success was extraordinary, his background was quite typical of a 1970s software nerd—a term that conjures up an image of a pale, male adolescent, lacking in social skills, programming by night and sleeping by day, oblivious to the wider world and the need to gain qualifications and build a career.

The launch of the Altair 8800 in 1975 transformed Gates’s and Allen’s lives. Almost as soon as they heard of the machine, they recognized the software opportunity it represented and proposed to MITS’s Ed Roberts that they should develop a BASIC programming system for the new machine. Besides being easy to develop, BASIC was the language favored by the commercial time-sharing systems and minicomputers that most computer hobbyists had encountered, and would therefore be the ideal vehicle for the personal-computer market. Roberts was enthusiastic, not least because BASIC would need a lot more memory to run than was normally provided with the Altair 8800; he expected to be able to sell extra memory with a high margin of profit. Gates and Allen formed a partnership they named Micro-Soft (the hyphen was later dropped), and after six weeks of intense programming effort they delivered a BASIC programming system to MITS in February 1975.

What brought together these two groups, with such different perspectives, was the arrival of the first hobby computer, the Altair 8800. THE ALTAIR 8800 In January 1975 the first microprocessor-based computer, the Altair 8800, was announced on the front cover of Popular Electronics. The Altair 8800 is often described as the first personal computer. This was true only in the sense that its price was so low that it could be realistically bought by an individual. In every other sense the Altair 8800 was a traditional minicomputer. Indeed, the blurb on the front cover of Popular Electronics described it as exactly that: “Exclusive! Altair 8800. The most powerful minicomputer project ever presented—can be built for under $400.” The Altair 8800 closely followed the electronics hobbyist marketing model: it was inexpensive ($397) and was sold by mail order as a kit that the enthusiast had to assemble himself.


From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog: A History of the Software Industry by Martin Campbell-Kelly


Apple II, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, barriers to entry, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, business process, card file, computer age, computer vision, continuous integration, inventory management, John von Neumann, linear programming, Menlo Park, Network effects, popular electronics, RAND corporation, Robert X Cringely, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, software patent, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

Programming Languages Microsoft got its start developing the first programming languages for microcomputers.4 The first microprocessor-based computers were so simple that they did not require an operating system, but programmers did need a programming language to develop application programs. Bill Gates and Paul Allen filled this void in 1975 by providing a programming language for the MITS Altair 8800. Gates was born in 1955 into a well-to-do and socially accomplished Seattle family. He was educated in private schools. In the fall of 1973 he began an undergraduate program at Harvard University, expecting to follow his father in the legal profession. Some years earlier, however, at the age of 13, Gates had become an enthusiastic user of a time-sharing terminal that his school had rented. He had become an accomplished programmer in BASIC, a programming language designed for novices. Gates and his schoolmate Paul Allen had explored the inner software complexities of the time-sharing system and had become real experts.

Between this experience and the day Gates went off to Harvard, he and Allen were summer interns at the systems integrator TRW, further honing their programming skills.5 According to Gates and his many biographers, in his sophomore year at Harvard he saw the January 1975 issue of Practical Electronics, which had the Altair 8800 kit on the cover, and saw in a flash the opportunity to The Personal Computer Software Industry 205 become the leading vendor of programming languages for microcomputers.6 The Altair 8800 used the Intel 8008 microprocessor, with which Gates and Allen were already familiar. Working mainly at night, Gates and Allen wrote a BASIC compiler for the Altair during the next month. Although a considerable achievement, writing a BASIC translator was a task that a first-rate senior undergraduate at any good computer science school could have been expected to accomplish. The manufacturer of the Altair, Albuquerque-based MITS, distributed the software for Gates and Allen, paying them a royalty of about $30 a copy.

Although some professional software development practices diffused into microprocessor programming, much of the software technology was cobbled together or re-invented, an amateurish legacy that the personal computer software industry took several years to shake off. The first microprocessor-based computer (or certainly the first influential one) was the Altair 8800, manufactured by Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems (MITS). This machine was sold in kit form for assembly by computer hobbyists, and its appearance on the cover of Popular Electronics in January 1975 is perhaps the best-known event in the folk history of the personal computer. The cover reads: “Exclusive! Altair 8800. The most powerful minicomputer project ever presented—can be built for under $400.”3 The Altair computer was positioned in the market as a minicomputer. Costing one-tenth as much as the cheapest commercially available model, and targeted at the electronics hobbyist, the Altair 8800 was successful in its niche. Several hundred were sold in the 6 months after its introduction.


pages: 781 words: 226,928

Commodore: A Company on the Edge by Brian Bagnall


Apple II, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, Byte Shop, Claude Shannon: information theory, computer age, Douglas Engelbart, Firefox, game design, index card, inventory management, low skilled workers, Menlo Park, packet switching, pink-collar, popular electronics, prediction markets, pre–internet, QWERTY keyboard, Robert X Cringely, Silicon Valley, special economic zone, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Ted Nelson

The PET received better coverage in Popular Science, the magazine that launched the Altair 8800. The editors ran a feature listing the most popular microcomputers of the day, including the Altair 8080, the IMSAI 8048, the Processor Technology Sol, the CompuColor, and even the upcoming Radio Shack TRS-80.[3] The editors were impressed with the appearance of the PET and featured it on the cover. The image showed the PET sitting on a kitchen counter, with a recipe for Oriental Salad on the screen. Although there had been many orders for the 4-kilobyte PET, it became clear the memory was severely limiting. Commodore wisely began discouraging orders for the 4-kilobyte version in favor of the 8-kilobyte version, which cost $795. The opportunity to purchase a computer for personal use seemed incredible. Bill Gates, in a 1993 Smithsonian interview, saw the PET 2001 as a landmark machine for the pricing as much as the technology.

To acquire BASIC, Commodore would make a deal with a small company called Micro-Soft. At the time, Micro-Soft did not own an operating system. Instead, it sold programming languages, principally its well-regarded version of BASIC. A young Bill Gates led the company. Some people mistakenly believe Gates invented BASIC, but John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz invented it in 1964 at Dartmouth College. Peddle finds the misconception amusing. “I knew BASIC when Gates was still in * grammar school,” he laughs. Bill Gates and Paul Allen were still new to business. Their company had grown to five employees and their BASIC language was quickly becoming the industry standard. Micro-Soft was located in Albuquerque, New Mexico.[2] In late 1976, Peddle received a phone call. “A guy calls me up from this place Micro-Soft and says, ‘I’ve got a BASIC for the 6502 and we’re not finding any customers.

Articles and projects appeared in these magazines well into 1979. MOS Technology released the KIM-1 in 1975, the same year as the Altair 8800 computer. The Altair has come to be known as the first personal computer system in North America to herald the new microcomputer revolution. The differences between the KIM-1 and the Altair computer illustrate a split in design philosophy within the computer world. The KIM-1 was a single-board computer, with all components mounted on a single printed-circuit board. It had room for expansion, but there were no slots to insert adapter cards. This design philosophy reduced production costs and thus gave the KIM-1 a major pricing advantage over the Altair. The Altair 8800 used an Intel 8080 chip, which retailed for $360, but inventor Ed Roberts was able to negotiate the price down to $75 each in bulk.


pages: 598 words: 183,531

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution - 25th Anniversary Edition by Steven Levy


air freight, Apple II, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, Buckminster Fuller, Byte Shop, computer age, computer vision, corporate governance, El Camino Real, game design, Hacker Ethic, hacker house, Haight Ashbury, John Conway, Mark Zuckerberg, Menlo Park, non-fiction novel, Paul Graham, popular electronics, RAND corporation, reversible computing, Richard Stallman, Silicon Valley, software patent, speech recognition, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, Whole Earth Catalog, Y Combinator

So it was that Ed Roberts’ computer was named Altair. Roberts and his design helper Bill Yates wrote an article describing it. In January 1975, Solomon published the article, with the address of MITS, and the offer to sell a basic kit for $397. On the cover of that issue was a phonied-up picture of the Altair 8800, which was a blue box half the size of an air conditioner, with an enticing front panel loaded with tiny switches and two rows of red LEDs. (This front panel would be changed to an even spiffier variation, anchored by a chrome strip with the MITS logo and the legend “Altair 8800” in the variegated type font identified with computer readouts.) Those who read the article would discover that there were only 256 bytes (a “byte” is a unit of eight bits) of memory inside the machine, which came with no input or output devices; in other words, it was a computer with no built-in way of getting information to or from the world besides those switches in front, by which you could painstakingly feed information directly to the memory locations.

I believe their story—their vision, their intimacy with the machine itself, their experiences inside their peculiar world, and their sometimes dramatic, sometimes absurd “interfaces” with the outside world—is the real story of the computer revolution. Who’s Who: The Wizards and Their Machines Bob Albrecht. Founder of People’s Computer Company who took visceral pleasure in exposing youngsters to computers. Altair 8800. The pioneering microcomputer that galvanized hardware hackers. Building this kit made you learn hacking. Then you tried to figure out what to do with it. Apple II. Steve Wozniak’s friendly, flaky, good-looking computer, wildly successful and the spark and soul of a thriving industry. Atari 800. This home computer gave great graphics to game hackers like John Harris, though the company that made it was loath to tell you how it worked.

The problem was that when you were finished, what you had was a box of blinking lights with only 256 bytes of memory. You could put in a program only by flicking octal numbers into the computer by those tiny, finger-shredding switches, and you could see the answer to your problem only by interpreting the flickety-flock of the LED lights, which were also laid out in octal. Hell, what did it matter? It was a start. It was a computer. Around the People’s Computer Company, the announcement of the Altair 8800 was cause for celebration. Everybody had known about the attempts to get a system going around the less powerful Intel 8008 chip; the unofficial sister publication of PCC was the Micro-8 Newsletter, a byzantinely arranged document with microscopic type published by a teacher and 8008 freak in Lompoc, California. But the Altair, with its incredibly low price and its 8080 chip, was spoken about as if it were the Second Coming.


pages: 744 words: 142,748

Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell by Phil Lapsley


air freight, Apple II, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, card file, Chance favours the prepared mind, cuban missile crisis, dumpster diving, Hush-A-Phone, index card, Jason Scott:, Menlo Park, popular electronics, Saturday Night Live, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, the scientific method, urban renewal, wikimedia commons

Hacking on microcomputers had another advantage over hacking phones because you might actually be able to make money at it. The Altair 8800, for example, quickly caught the attention of a couple of undergraduates from Harvard University. Sensing a business opportunity, the duo proposed to write an interpreter for the BASIC computer language, something that would make the Altair far more useful. Upon seeing demo code from the pair, MITS took them up on the deal. The Harvard students—two kids named Bill Gates and Paul Allen—dropped out and started a company called Micro-Soft to pursue the opportunity. Intel’s 8080 found itself at the center of a competitive whirlpool of other companies’ microprocessor chips: the Motorola 6800, the MOS Technology 6502, the Zilog Z80. MITS’s Altair 8800 spawned a cottage industry of competitors as well, mostly kits, mostly clumsily named: the IMSAI 8080, the Processor Technology SOL-20, the MOS KIM-1, the Southwest Technical Products Corporation SWTPC 6800.

Intel didn’t know it yet but that chip would be the thing that started the home computer revolution and would lead to Intel’s eventual domination of the microprocessor market. In January 1975 Popular Electronics, a geeky electronic hobbyist magazine, offered its readers an unbelievable chance to own their own slice of high-tech heaven. “Project Breakthrough!” the cover fairly shouted. “World’s First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models . . . ‘Altair 8800.’” The cover’s photo showed a large metal box—blue, as it happened—about the size of three toasters, its nerd-sexy front panel festooned with dozens of tiny toggle switches and red LEDs. The computer had an Intel 8080 processor and 256 bytes of memory. It had no screen or keyboard, not even a teletype. If you wanted to program it, you would be flipping switches on the front panel for some time.

If you wanted to program it, you would be flipping switches on the front panel for some time. But before you could program it you had to build it. It came as a kit, consisting of empty circuit boards and bags full of electronic components you had to solder together. The price? A mere $397, mail-ordered from a company no one had ever heard of: MITS in Albuquerque, New Mexico. MITS’s phone began ringing off the hook. Within weeks thousands of orders were called in for the Altair 8800, more than four hundred in a single day. The Popular Electronics editor Les Solomon said later, “The only word which could come into mind was ‘magic.’ You buy the Altair, you have to build it, then you have to build other things to plug into it to make it work. You are a weird-type person. Because only weird-type people sit in kitchens and basements and places all hours of the night, soldering things to boards to make machines go flickety-flock.”


pages: 394 words: 108,215

What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry by John Markoff


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Apple II, back-to-the-land, Bill Duvall, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, Buckminster Fuller, California gold rush, card file, computer age, computer vision, conceptual framework, cuban missile crisis, Douglas Engelbart, Dynabook, El Camino Real, general-purpose programming language, Golden Gate Park, Hacker Ethic, hypertext link, informal economy, information retrieval, invention of the printing press, Jeff Rulifson, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, Mahatma Gandhi, Menlo Park, Mother of all demos, packet switching, Paul Terrell, popular electronics, QWERTY keyboard, RAND corporation, RFC: Request For Comment, Richard Stallman, Robert X Cringely, Sand Hill Road, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, South of Market, San Francisco, speech recognition, Steve Crocker, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, union organizing, Vannevar Bush, Whole Earth Catalog, William Shockley: the traitorous eight

If they wanted to make money on it, that was just great. As part of his work at SRI, Allison had helped develop a mainframe BASIC programming language called Interaccess BASIC. Interaccess was a time-sharing firm that had been started by a small group of SRI alumni, who had contracted with the think tank for the software as part of their plan to compete with the dominant time-sharing company Tymshare. The group had bought a handful of CDC 3800 computers that had been sold as surplus by the nearby Air Force Satellite Control Facility in Sunnyvale. At the time, the machines were the cheapest computing system you could possibly purchase. Their business plan positioned them to be a Tymshare competitor for one-third the price. When in early 1975 an Altair 8800 computer showed up at the PCC office, Allison carefully looked at its specifications, and what he discovered horrified him.

He was then living next door to Fred Moore on Homer Lane in Menlo Park. Both men were single fathers, and they shared a radical political perspective. In the Whole Earth Catalog spirit, Tesler’s activist neighbor argued with him that people were eventually going to build their own computers. Tesler wasn’t so sure about that, but when he saw an advertisement in the local paper announcing the visit of a van to Palo Alto to show off the new MITS Altair 8800 computer kit, he thought he would go take a look. It had been only six months since Popular Electronics magazine had published a cover story on the Altair, a blue-edged metal box with lights and switches and not much else. Now the Albuquerque, New Mexico, company that manufactured it was sending a bus on tour around the country to demonstrate it. Tesler went over to Rickey’s Hyatt House Hotel on El Camino Real in Palo Alto to attend the presentation, and though he hadn’t been very impressed with the machine, he went straight back to Xerox and said, “I just saw something really important.”

Terrell had approached MITS about the possibility of distributing their new Altair computer. Although the company was planning on selling the machines by mail order, Terrell met with MITS’s founder Ed Roberts at the National Computer Conference in Anaheim, California, in 1975 and reached an agreement where he would promote Altairs in northern California and in return receive a commission on the machines sold in the region. MITS planned a nationwide bus tour for its Altair 8800, giving many people their first hands-on experience with a personal computer. The company had equipped a van as a mobile showcase, and Terrell reserved a conference room at Rickey’s Hyatt House, a Palo Alto hotel. The room held eighty people, but more than two hundred showed up in response to advertisements in local newspapers, including Larry Tesler, who would later unsuccessfully try to convince his colleagues that he had seen the future.


pages: 559 words: 157,112

Dealers of Lightning by Michael A. Hiltzik


Apple II, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, Bill Duvall, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, computer age, Dynabook, El Camino Real, index card, Jeff Rulifson, Joseph Schumpeter, Marshall McLuhan, Menlo Park, oil shock, popular electronics, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, Steve Ballmer, Steve Crocker, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, the medium is the message, Vannevar Bush, Whole Earth Catalog

The two programs together represent the world’s first user-friendly computer word processing system. January 1: Xerox establishes the System Development Division, its most comprehensive attempt to commercialize PARC technology. More than five years later, SDD will launch its masterwork, the Xerox Star. January: The Altair 8800, a hobbyist’s personal computer sold as a mail-order kit, is featured on the cover of Popular Electronics, enthralling a generation of youthful technology buffs—among them, Bill Gates—with the possibilities of personal computing. February: PARC engineers demonstrate for their colleagues a graphical user interface for a personal computer, including icons and the first use of pop-up menus, that will develop into the Windows and Macintosh interfaces of today. March 1: PARC’s permanent headquarters at 3333 Coyote Hill Road are formally opened.

My wife, Deborah, was a loving and steadfast partner in this project from beginning to end, whether the demand was for the heavy labor of transcribing interviews or for the definitive and lucid insights that alone can rescue a hopelessly snarled chapter from the hell of a weary writer’s bewilderment. Lastly, I owe more than I can express to my wonderful sons, Andrew and David, who will inherit the world PARC made. Index Abramson, Norman, 186 Adobe Systems, 374, 396 Advanced Research Projects Agency. See ARPA Advanced Systems Division (ASD), 282–84, 357commercialization of Alto and, 278, 283–86 Alarm clock worm, 298 ALOHAnet, xiv, 186–87, 189 Alpha, 198 Altair 8800, xvi, 323, 333, 334 Alto, xv, xix–xxiv, xxvii, 141, 163, 167–77, 212, 224–25, 233, 261, 274, 303, 321, 324, 326, 330, 333, 357, 389, 395 Apple and, 335–36, 338–43asynchronous architecture and, 252–53 Bilbo and, 326 Bravo and, 194–95, 198–200, 208–9, 210, 283, 310 BravoX and, 283commercialization of, xvi, xxvii, 278, 282–88, 357, 392–93 Cookie Monster and, xv, xxii–xxiii, 81, 198, 231, 233cost of, 176diagnostic program for, 294display of, 171, 172–75, 176, 239 Draw and, 212 Elkind and, 168, 175, 278, 282–84 Ellenby and, 261–65, 268, 278, 283, 284–88 Ethernet and, 141, 176, 184–93, 212, 250, 251, 343 Futures Day and, 266, 271–72, 278, 280, 393 Goldman and, 278, 282–83 Gypsy and, 194–95, 207–10, 283interactivity and, xxi, 169, 170–71, 172–73 Kay and, xv, xxi, 167–68, 169, 170, 175, 220–28, 239, 283, 316 Kearns and, 286, 287, 288 Lampson and, xv, 141, 167–68, 171, 173–74, 175–76, 194, 195, 198, 206, see also Bravomanufacturing process and, 261–62 Markup and, 212 MAXC and, 175, 176 McCreight and, 141, 169, 176–77musical synthesizer and, 221 OfficeTalk and, 285 Penguin and, 285 POLOS and, 205–7, 210, 307at public school, 222–24, 314–15reset switch and, 289 SIL and, 212, 319 Simonyi and, 283, 284, 357 Smalltalk and, 220–21, 222–23software course for executives using, 274–75success of, 211–12 Taylor and, 3, 170–71, 205–6, 211text editor for, 194, 195, 198, see also Bravo Thacker and, xv, xix–xxiv, 4, 141, 163, 167–77, 174, 175, 212, 250–51, 289 Twang and, 221–22 Worm crashing, 289–90, 294–98 Xerox and, 285–88, 392, 393, 395 Xerox Model 850 versus, 264, 265, 274 Alto II, 262–63 Alto III, 263–65, 268, 350 850 word processor versus, 264, 265, 283 Ames Research Center, 197 Apple Computer, 329, 369–70 Apple II and, 332, 357, 358eMate and, 321 Goldberg and, 330, 335–36, 337, 338–40 Hall and, 334–35, 337, 338, 339, 340 Jobs and, xvi, xvii, xxiii, 329–45, 369–70, 389, 391 Lisa and, xvii, xviii, 337–38, 341–42, 343, 344 Macintosh and, xvi, xvii, xviii, xxiv, 329, 340, 341–42, 343, 344, 370, 389, 391, 395–96 Microsoft versus, xxv, 395–96size of, 392 Smalltalk and, 335–36, 338–43 Tesler and, 330, 333–34, 335, 336, 337, 338, 339, 340–41, 342, 344–45 VisiCalc and, 332 Wozniak and, xvi, 332 Architecture of information, 394 Archival memory, 123 Argus 700, 262 ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency), 11–12, 13, 14, 42–43, 118 ARPANET and, 43–46, 48, 78 Augmentation Research Center and, 64, 65 Berkeley 500 and, 78grants of, 61graphics and, 43, 231 Illiac IV and, 197 Licklider and, 11, 12–14, 18, 44 LINC and, 42 Mansfield Amendment and, 47–48 PDP—10 and, 98 Pup shared with, 291–93research conferences and, 16–17 Taylor and, 14–20, 42–43, 90, 146 University of Utah and, 90 Vietnam War and, 45–47 See also IPTO ARPANET, xiii, 48, 78, 171, 180, 184, 266 IMPs and, 118, 320as “internet,” 291–93 MAXC and, 115, 183–84 PDP—10 and, 98 POLOS Novas and, 189 Pup and, 291–93 Taylor and, 8, 43–45, 48 VLSI and, 310 Artificial intelligence, 91, 98 Bobrow and, 121, 237, 261 ASCII, 135, 139 “As We May Think” (Bush), 63 Asynchronous architecture, 252–53 Atkinson, Bill, 340, 342–43 Atlantic Richfield Company, 284 AT&T, 30, 53, 57, 391 Augmentation Research Center, 63–67 Aurora Systems, 241 Ballmer, Steve, 358–59 Bardeen, John, 57, 160 Barker, Ben, 180 Bates, Roger, 173 Bauer, Bob, 59 Beat the Dealer (Thorp), 146 Beaudelaire, Patrick, 212, 231 Becker, Joe, 369 Bell, Alexander Graham, xxiii Belleville, Bob, 250–52, 253, 369–70 Bendix LGP30 computer, 70 Berkeley Computer Corporation, xiv, 68–69, 73–79, 106, 107–8, 197, 230 500 computer and, 76, 78, 109 Genie and, 69, 70, 72–73 1 computer and, 74–76 Biegelsen, David, 52–53, 58, 152 “Biggerism,” Thacker and, xx, 75 Bilbo, 326 Billboard worm, 298 BitBlt, Ingalls and, xv, 226–28, 342 Bitmapped screen Alto and, 173–74, 272 Star and, 362, 364 Blue books, 291 Bobrow, Daniel G., 261, 376, 399artificial intelligence and, 121, 237, 261 Bolt, Beranek & Newman and, 121, 280, 301 Elkind and, 280, 281, 282 Boeing Corporation, 284 Boggs, David R., 178–79, 399 Alto and, 294 Ethernet and, 141, 176, 187–92 Futures Day and, 267, 272 Novas and, 188 Worm and, 290–91 Bolt, Beranek & Newman, 76, 118, 119, 120, 121, 180, 265–66, 280, 301, 320 Boolean logic, 109, 304 “Bose Conspiracy,” 152–53 Box Named Joe, A, 222 Brand, Stewart Rolling Stone and, xv, 155–62, 204, 223 Whole Earth Catalog and, 157 Bravo, 208–9, 210, 227, 283, 310, 373 Lampson and, 194, 195, 198, 199, 201 Simonyi and, xv, 194–95, 198–201 BravoX, 283–84, 285, 364 Simonyi and, 283, 357, 360 Brittain, William, 57 Brooks, Frederick, 74, 76 Brown, John Seely, 302, 386, 399 Brunner, John, 295–96, 297, 298–99 Brushes, Alto and, 174 Building 34, 140 Burroughs, 24, 89, 101 Bush, Vannevar, 63–64, 67, 122 Buvall, Bill, 64 C++, xiv Campbell, Sandy, 381–82 “Capability Investment Proposal” (Ellenby), 285, 286–87, 288 Card, Stuart, 302 Carlson, Chester, 22, 35, 130, 350, 393 Carnegie-Mellon, 43 Carter, Jimmy, 283–84 Carter, Shelby H., 285–86, 287, 363 CD-ROM, 55, 123 Cedar, 325 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 336 Character generator.

See PARC Papert, Seymour, 218 LOGO and, 91–92, 164, 222 Parallel processing, Worm and, 289–90, 293–99 Paramount Pictures, Futures Day and, 267 PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), xivambiance of, 277–78 Bardeen saving, 57, 160collegiality at, 57–59, 150–53at Coyote Hill Road, xv, xvi, 254–55creative method of, 107dedication of, 53–54division of, 356, 372, 374–75evaluation of Xerox’s role with, xxvi–xxvii, 55–57, 60–61, 95–96, 373, 389–98future and, 122–24 Goldman’s proposal for, xiii, 29–32governing principle of, xxii, xxviinternal conflicts in, 372–73invention at, xxiv–xxvlost decade and, 55–57, 394money earned for Xerox by, xxvi, 128, 144 name of, 30, 38office of the future and, 123, 165, 233, 235, 237opening of, 40research agenda of, 55, 386site of, 31, 32, 37–40 PARC Universal Packet. See Pup Pattern sensitivity, Intel 1103 memory chip and, 114 PDP-1, 71, 72 PDP-10, 98, 99, 100, 103, 104–6, 108, 121, 124, see also MAXC PDP-11, 248 Peeker, 298 Pendery, Don, 121–22, 143 Pendery Papers, 122–24 Penguin, 285 Personal computer, xxiii, 95, 391 Altair 8800 and, xvi, 323, 333, 334 Dorado and, xvii, 318–21, 322, 324–26, 327 Dynabook and, xiii, 94, 163–67, 175, 211, 216, 321, 327, 336 IBM PC and, xviii, xxiv, 212, 360, 368–69, 370, 389, 391, 395 Kay and, 81, 89, 93–94, 95 Minicom and, 163–67 Taylor and, 5, 8, 49 See also Alto; Lisa; Macintosh Photoconductor fatigue, 130–31 Piaget, Jean, 91 Piece tables, 199 Pimlico, 271 Pirtle, Mel, 72, 73–74, 76, 77, 78, 197 Pixar, 240 Pixels, xxii, 164, 165 POLOS (PARC On-line Office System), 166, 170, 173, 176, 307 Alto and, 205–7, 210, 307 English and, 307 Fairbairn and, 307 Mott and, 203–5, 206 Novas and, 184–85, 188, 189, 202, 206as obsolete, 206–7, 210 Tesler and, 201–3 Pop-up menus, xvi, 209 BitBlt and, xv, 227–28 Portable computer.


pages: 566 words: 122,184

Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software by Charles Petzold


Bill Gates: Altair 8800, Claude Shannon: information theory, computer age, Douglas Engelbart, Dynabook, Eratosthenes, invention of the telegraph, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, James Watt: steam engine, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Louis Daguerre, millennium bug, optical character recognition, popular electronics, Richard Stallman, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Turing machine, Turing test, Vannevar Bush, Von Neumann architecture

On home computers, BASIC got an early start when buddies Bill Gates (born 1955) and Paul Allen (born 1953) wrote a BASIC interpreter for the Altair 8800 in 1975 and jump-started their company, Microsoft Corporation. The Pascal programming language, which inherited much of its structure from ALGOL but included record handling from COBOL, was designed in the late 1960s by Swiss computer science professor Niklaus Wirth (born 1934). Pascal was quite popular for IBM PC programmers, but in a very specific form—the product Turbo Pascal, introduced by Borland International in 1983 for the bargain price of $49.95. Turbo Pascal (written by Danish student Anders Hejlsberg, born in 1960) was a version of Pascal that came complete with an integrated development environment. The text editor and the compiler were combined in a single program that facilitated very fast programming.

Despite neither method being intrinsically "right," the difference does create an additional incompatibility problem when sharing information between systems based on little-endian and big-endian machines. What became of these two microprocessors? The 8080 was used in what some people have called the first personal computer but which is probably more accurately the first home computer. This is the Altair 8800, which appeared on the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics. When you look at the Altair 8800, the lights and switches on the front panel should seem familiar. This is the same type of primitive "control panel" interface that I proposed for the 64-KB RAM array in Chapter 16. The 8080 was followed by the Intel 8085 and, more significantly, by the Z-80 chip made by Zilog, a rival of Intel founded by former Intel employee Federico Faggin, who had done important work on the 4004.

Bibliography SPECIAL OFFER: Upgrade this ebook with O’Reilly Code: The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software Charles Petzold Copyright © 2009 Charles Petzold (All) Microsoft Press books are available through booksellers and distributors worldwide. For further information about international editions, contact your local Microsoft Corporation office or contact Microsoft Press International directly at fax (425) 936-7329. Visit our Web site at Send comments to Macintosh is a registered trademark of Apple Computer, Inc. Microsoft, MS-DOS, and Windows are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. Other product and company names mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.


pages: 538 words: 147,612

All the Money in the World by Peter W. Bernstein


Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Berlin Wall, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, call centre, corporate governance, currency peg, David Brooks, Donald Trump, estate planning, financial innovation, George Gilder, high net worth, invisible hand, Jeff Bezos, job automation, job-hopping, Long Term Capital Management, Martin Wolf, Maui Hawaii, means of production, Menlo Park, new economy, PageRank, Peter Singer: altruism, pez dispenser, popular electronics, Renaissance Technologies, Rod Stewart played at Stephen Schwarzman birthday party, Ronald Reagan, Sand Hill Road, school vouchers, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, traveling salesman, urban planning, William Shockley: the traitorous eight, women in the workforce

A number of companies that later propelled their founders to great riches were, in fact, born in a dorm room. Even though Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen both dropped out of college, the seed for what became Microsoft was planted while Gates was still at Harvard. Allen had already dropped out of Washington State University to take a programming job in Boston. The story goes that while visiting Gates, Allen saw a Popular Electronics story describing the MITS Altair 8800, the “World’s First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models,” which prompted the duo to talk themselves into dropping everything and starting a company. “Paul saw that the technology17 was there,” Gates later recalled. “He kept saying, ‘It’s gonna be too late. We’ll miss it.’” They teamed up to write a version of BASIC (short for Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code), a compact computer language for the MITS machine, and Microsoft was born.

Prior to Apple’s astounding success and before the arrival of the 8088 chip, personal computers were viewed as gadgets for hobbyists. Now, for the first time, the potential existed for the personal computer to have a role in the business world. Gates and his friend Paul Allen4 had already established a reputation for themselves as whiz kids in high-tech circles when they developed software to run the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, in 1975. Several years later the two were making a comfortable living with Microsoft, their tiny, Seattle-based software company. Now, suddenly, the industry’s Goliath wanted to do business—but only according to IBM’s script, and with Gates only playing a minor role in the corporation’s plans. Gates arrived with Ballmer5 in Miami, Florida, on the red-eye from the West Coast; according to some accounts, they hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours.

The government’s famous 1998 antitrust suit against Microsoft charged the company with predatory pricing, illegally bundling its browser for free with the Windows operating system, and bribing distributors so they would not sell Netscape’s browser. Microsoft countered that it had not impeded competitors and that giving away its browser was an innovation that benefited consumers. Netscape lawyer Gary L. Reback saw the situation differently: “The only thing J. D. Rockefeller did23 that Bill Gates hasn’t done is use dynamite against his competitors!” he complained.*5 It was a stinging remark, but many others shared his view. Bill Gates had “an incredible desire to win and to beat other people,” ex–Microsoft executive Jean Richardson recalled for a PBS documentary, Triumph of the Nerds. “At Microsoft, the whole idea was that we would put people under.”


pages: 230 words: 71,320

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell


affirmative action, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, computer age, medical residency, popular electronics, Silicon Valley, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, union organizing, upwardly mobile, why are manhole covers round?

All of the fourteen men and women on the list above had vision and talent. But they also were given an extraordinary opportu nity, in the same way that hockey and soccer players born in January, February, and March are given an extraordinary opportunity.'1" Now let's do the same kind of analysis for people like Bill Joy and Bill Gates. If you talk to veterans of Silicon Valley, they'll tell you that the most important date in the history of the personal computer revolution was January 1975. That was when the magazine Popular Electronics ran a cover story on an extraordinary machine called the Altair 8800. The Altair cost $397. It was a do-it-yourself contraption that you could assemble at home. The headline on the story read: “PROJECT BREAKTHROUGH! World's First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models.” To the readers of Popular Electronics, in those days the bible of the fledgling software and computer world, that headline was a revelation.

The perfect age to be in 1975, in other words, is old enough to be a part of the coming revolution but not so old that you missed it. Ideally, you want to be twenty or twenty-one, which is to say, born in 1954 or 1955. There is an easy way to test this theory. When was Bill Gates born? Bill Gates: October 28,1955 That's the perfect birth date! Gates is the hockey player born on January 1. Gates's best friend at Lakeside was Paul Allen. He also hung out in the computer room with Gates and shared those long evenings at ISI and C-Cubed. Allen went on to found Microsoft with Bill Gates. When was Paul Allen born? Paul Allen: January 21, 1953 The third-richest man at Microsoft is the one who has been running the company on a day-to-day basis since 2000, one of the most respected executives in the software world, Steve Ballmer. Ballmer's birth date? Steve Ballmer: March 24,1956 Let's not forget a man every bit as famous as Gates: Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple Computer.

And do you know who wrote much of the software that allows you to access the InternetBill Joy. After graduating from Berkeley, Joy cofounded the Silicon Valley firm Sun Microsystems, which was one of the most critical players in the computer revolution. There he rewrote another computer languageJavaand his legend grew still further. Among Silicon Valley insiders, Joy is spoken of with as much awe as someone like Bill Gates of Microsoft. He is sometimes called the Edison of the Internet. As the Yale computer scientist David Gelernter says, "Bill Joy is one of the most influential people in the modern history of computing/' The story of Bill Joy's genius has been told many times, and the lesson is always the same. Here was a world that was the purest of meritocracies. Computer programming didn't operate as an old-boy network, where you got ahead because of money or connections.


pages: 247 words: 81,135

The Great Fragmentation: And Why the Future of All Business Is Small by Steve Sammartino


3D printing, additive manufacturing, Airbnb, augmented reality, barriers to entry, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, bitcoin, BRICs, Buckminster Fuller, citizen journalism, collaborative consumption, cryptocurrency, Elon Musk, fiat currency, game design, Google X / Alphabet X, haute couture, helicopter parent, illegal immigration, index fund, Jeff Bezos, jimmy wales, Kickstarter, knowledge economy, Law of Accelerating Returns, market design, Metcalfe's law, Minecraft, minimum viable product, Network effects, new economy, post scarcity, prediction markets, pre–internet, profit motive, race to the bottom, random walk, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, RFID, self-driving car, sharing economy, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Skype, social graph, social web, software is eating the world, Steve Jobs, too big to fail, web application

What’s certain is that social media and citizen journalism will evolve into social design and social manufacturing. It’s the way it’s always been, excluding the 200-year halcyon period of the industrial era. Dad vs daughter I’ve been thrilled to own a 3D printer for a few years now. I purchased one when they hit their Altair moment (the Altair 8800 is regarded as the first affordable personal computer and the spark of the home computer revolution). It’s a pretty impressive party trick introducing someone to the basic idea of 3D printing, helping them work through their initial incredulity, showing them a little video about it, and then helping them print their first item. It’s a social experiment I’ve undertaken on both my 70-year-old father and my four-year-old daughter. While I was tinkering with my 3D printer in my home office, my daughter came in the room and asked me what that ‘toy’ was, pointing to the printer.

The first hand-held GPS receiver, which was launched in 1989 (the Magellan NAV 1000), was the size of a brick and cost $2500 to purchase. These days the GPS is another ‘free’ device we get with our pocket ‘super computer’, the smartphone. The free super computer In fact, most of the important technologies we use today are becoming integrated into the smartphone, which isn’t really a ‘smart phone’ at all — it’s actually the most personal of personal computers. While Bill Gates aimed to have a computer on every desk in every home, Steve Jobs put a super computer in every person’s pocket. The evidence is in the number of uses for the smartphone. The telephone function only gets 22 of the more than 150 interactions we have with our smartphones daily.2 One of the most amazing things about this super computer is that it’s actually free. The recommended retail price is a bit of a red herring.

Books The Art of Game Design: A Book of lenses Jesse Schell Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium Carl Sagan Brand Hijack: Marketing Without Marketing Alex Wipperfurth The Cluetrain Manifesto Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed Ray Kurzweil The Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of Practical Counsel Benjamin Graham One Up On Wall Street: How To Use What You Already Know To Make Money In The Market Peter Lynch The Prince Niccolo Machiavelli A Random Walk Down Wall Street: The Time-Tested Strategy for Successful Investing Burton G. Malkiel Rework Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson The Road Ahead Bill Gates, Nathan Myhrvold, Peter Rinearson Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions Christian Lander Documentaries Connections (series 1-3, 1978-1997) Series presented by James Burke. The Corporation (2013) Film on the concept of the corporation. Cosmos (1980) Series presented by Carl Sagan. The Day the Universe Changed (1985) Series presented by James Burke.


pages: 378 words: 110,518

Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by Paul Mason


Alfred Russel Wallace, bank run, banking crisis, banks create money, Basel III, Bernie Madoff, Bernie Madoff, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, bitcoin, Branko Milanovic, Bretton Woods, BRICs, British Empire, business process, butterfly effect, call centre, capital controls, Claude Shannon: information theory, collaborative economy, collective bargaining, corporate social responsibility, credit crunch, currency manipulation / currency intervention, currency peg, David Graeber, deglobalization, deindustrialization, discovery of the americas, Downton Abbey,, energy security, eurozone crisis, factory automation, financial repression, Firefox, Fractional reserve banking, full employment, future of work, game design, income inequality, inflation targeting, informal economy, Internet of things, job automation, John Maynard Keynes: Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren, Joseph Schumpeter, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, late capitalism, low skilled workers, market clearing, means of production, Metcalfe's law, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, mortgage debt, Network effects, new economy, Occupy movement, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, payday loans, post-industrial society, precariat, price mechanism, profit motive, quantitative easing, race to the bottom, RAND corporation, reserve currency, RFID, Richard Stallman, Robert Gordon, secular stagnation, sharing economy, Stewart Brand, supply-chain management, the scientific method, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Transnistria, union organizing, universal basic income, urban decay, urban planning, wages for housework, women in the workforce

For the first thirty years, computers were big and rare, and computing took place in businesses and universities. When desktop PCs were invented in the mid-1970s, they were little more than an assembly of electronic boards and a screen. And corporations did not build them, hobbyists did. The Altair 8800 was a breakthrough machine, sold via magazine ads to a subculture of geeky people who wanted to learn programming. You needed a programming language to make the computer do what you wanted, and two Seattle-based guys came up with one: Altair BASIC, distributed on a reel of paper with holes punched through it, price $200. But soon they noticed that sales of the language were lagging behind sales of the computer. Users were copying and distributing the punched paper reels for free. In an angry ‘Open Letter’ the software’s author urged them to kick pirates out of computer club meetings and to pay up: ‘Most of you steal your software.

In an angry ‘Open Letter’ the software’s author urged them to kick pirates out of computer club meetings and to pay up: ‘Most of you steal your software. [You believe] hardware must be paid for but software is something to share. Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid.’17 The author was Bill Gates, and he soon came up with a solution: to own the operating system as well as the programming language. Gates designed Windows, which became the standard operating system on PCs. Soon Windows built a near monopoly of the corporate desktop and Gates became a billionaire. His ‘Open Letter’ would go down as the second most important document in the history of digital economics. Now here is an excerpt from what I think is the most important document: If anything deserves a reward, it is social contribution. Creativity can be a social contribution, but only in so far as society is free to use the results.

According to standard economics a person like Richard Stallman should not exist: he is not following his self-interest but suppressing it in favour of a collective interest that is not just economic but moral. According to market theory, it is those motivated by the pursuit of private property who should be the more efficient innovators. According to mainstream economics, large corporations such as Google should be doing what Bill Gates did: making a land-grab for everything and trying to destroy Open Source software. Now Google is a hard-assed capitalist firm, but in pursuit of its own interests it is forced to fight for some standards to be open and some software to be free. Google is not postcapitalist – but as long as it keeps Android Open Source it is being forced to act in a way that prefigures non-capitalist forms of ownership and exchange, even if, as the EU is investigating, they use this position to carve out dominance.


pages: 464 words: 155,696

Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart Into a Visionary Leader by Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzeli


Albert Einstein, Apple II, Apple's 1984 Super Bowl advert, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, Byte Shop, computer age, corporate governance, El Camino Real, Jony Ive, market design, McMansion, Menlo Park, Paul Terrell, popular electronics, QWERTY keyboard, Ronald Reagan, Sand Hill Road, side project, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, skunkworks, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Tim Cook: Apple, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Whole Earth Catalog

Their first get-together occurred shortly after the publication of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics, which featured a cover story about the Altair 8800 “microcomputer.” Gordon French, a Silicon Valley engineer, hosted the gathering in his garage to show off an Altair unit that French and a buddy had assembled from the $495 kit sold by Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS). It was an inscrutable-looking device, about the size of a stereo component amplifier, its face sporting two horizontal arrays of toggle switches and a lot of blinking red lights. The clunky thing couldn’t do too much, but it demonstrated the feasibility of having a computer to yourself, one that you could program twenty-four hours a day if you wanted to, without having to wait in line or punch any cards. Bill Gates read the article, and shortly thereafter famously dropped out of Harvard to start a little outfit called Micro-soft to design software programming languages for the Altair.

ON A SEPTEMBER day in 1981, just a couple of months after Scotty’s departure, Bill Gates visited the Apple campus in Cupertino. The twenty-six-year-old CEO of Microsoft made the trip fairly often, since his company worked closely with Apple on programming languages for software developers. At the time, Steve was far richer and far more well-known. Gates, however, was the far more precocious and astute businessman. After dropping out of Harvard, Gates had started Microsoft in 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with his prep school programming buddy, Paul Allen. Albuquerque was home to MITS, the maker of the Altair computer that had so excited the Homebrew hobbyists. Gates and Allen wrote a piece of software called an “interpreter” that made it possible for hobbyists to write their own programs for the Altair in the simple but popular BASIC programming language.

WHEN WORD GOT back to Cupertino of Bill’s ambitious CES presentation, Avie Tevanian and Jon Rubinstein persuaded Steve to convene an emergency off-site executive staff meeting at the Garden Court Hotel in downtown Palo Alto to rethink where Apple was headed. “Bill Gates was already talking about what we would end up calling our ‘digital hub’ strategy,” recalls Mike Slade. “So I just cribbed his talk and pitched it to Steve at the off-site meeting. I said, ‘Shouldn’t we be doing this? We can’t let Microsoft do it. They’ll just screw it up!’ ” Apple employees had never had much respect for Microsoft’s ability to create anything but ungainly, confusing, and half-baked technologies for consumers. The animus went back decades. Even though Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint were instrumental in the early success of the Mac, Microsoft’s unforgivable sin, from the vantage point of Cupertino, was its derivative creation of Windows. Steve was being expedient when he offered to abandon Apple’s long-standing lawsuit against Microsoft to seal the deal with Gates upon his return in 1997.


The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the Revolution That Made Computing Personal by M. Mitchell Waldrop


Ada Lovelace, air freight, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Apple II, battle of ideas, Berlin Wall, Bill Duvall, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, Byte Shop, Claude Shannon: information theory, computer age, conceptual framework, cuban missile crisis, Douglas Engelbart, Dynabook, experimental subject, friendly fire, Haight Ashbury, Howard Rheingold, information retrieval, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, Jeff Rulifson, John von Neumann, Menlo Park, New Journalism, packet switching, pink-collar, popular electronics, RAND corporation, RFC: Request For Comment, Silicon Valley, Steve Crocker, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, Turing machine, Turing test, Vannevar Bush, Von Neumann architecture, Wiener process

Since the only real, working Al- tair had gotten lost in transit before reaching the photographers in New York (it would turn up a year later), the cover showed the best mockup that MITS could manage on short notice: a pale-blue Altair shell with an impressive array of switches and diodes across the front that did absolutely nothing. But it certainly looked like the real thing. And right there in the box's upper-left-hand corner was the name: Altair 8800. "Project Breakthrough!" proclaimed the headline. "World's First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models." Inside, readers learned that the kits could be had from MITS for just $397. MITS would be a year or more digging out from under the avalanche. Having expected maybe a few hundred orders, Roberts and his crew ultimately received more than ten thousand. And why not? The kit was a steal, considering that the retail price of the 8080 chip alone was $360.

Among the start- ups were any number of garage shops building microcomputers of their own, including several-with names like IMSAI, SOL, Morrow, Godbout/Compupro, Dynabyte, Cromemco, and Vector Graphic-that were producing outright clones. Since MITS was still laboring to fill those back orders, its rivals found a ready market. (Another open-architecture machine, the IBM PC, would later ex- perience a similar fate.) Naturally, Roberts fought back. And indeed, once he caught up with the back orders, his company did rather well. By 1976 MITS was offering its own line of expansion boards and peripherals, as well as an upgraded Altair 8800b. Roberts can remember selling equipment to the Secret Service, the FBI, and the CIA, as well as to a fellow working on the special effects for a new science-fiction movie-something called Star wars. But by that point he was also getting tired of the "soap opera," his term for the endless round of product upgrades, frustrated customers, panicked dealers, personnel hassles (MITS now had hundreds of em- ployees), and internal politics.

And by the following year, 1977, with more than a LICK'S KIDS 435 hundred companies wanting to license CP/M for their new machines, Kildall was hurriedly rewriting the system in a way that he hoped would keep him sane. His basic idea was to collect all the code that had to be customized for each new computer or disk drive and put it into a small Unix-like kernel that he called the Basic Input/Output System, or BIOS. Getting that right for a given machine would then be the responsibility of the licensee, not Kildall. And once that was done, the rest of CP/M would run without change. Now, if this all sounds familiar, no wonder: when Bill Gates and his crew at Microsoft were later asked to write a "Disk Operating System" for the new IBM PC, they responded with a clone-MS-DOS-that was just barely different enough from CP/M to avoid legal action.


pages: 377 words: 115,122

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain


8-hour work day, Albert Einstein, Asperger Syndrome, Bill Gates: Altair 8800, call centre, crowdsourcing, David Brooks, delayed gratification, deliberate practice, game design, hive mind, index card, knowledge economy, knowledge worker, Mahatma Gandhi, Menlo Park, meta-analysis, new economy, popular electronics, Ralph Waldo Emerson, ride hailing / ride sharing, Rosa Parks, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, telemarketer, The Wisdom of Crowds, traveling salesman, Walter Mischel, web application, white flight

Their mission: to make computers accessible to regular people—no small task at a time when most computers are temperamental SUV-sized machines that only universities and corporations can afford. The garage is drafty, but the engineers leave the doors open to the damp night air so people can wander inside. In walks an uncertain young man of twenty-four, a calculator designer for Hewlett-Packard. Serious and bespectacled, he has shoulder-length hair and a brown beard. He takes a chair and listens quietly as the others marvel over a new build-it-yourself computer called the Altair 8800, which recently made the cover of Popular Electronics. The Altair isn’t a true personal computer; it’s hard to use, and appeals only to the type of person who shows up at a garage on a rainy Wednesday night to talk about microchips. But it’s an important first step. The young man, whose name is Stephen Wozniak, is thrilled to hear of the Altair. He’s been obsessed with electronics since the age of three.

And yet the elasticity that Schwartz found in some of the high-reactive teens also suggests the converse: we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities. These seem like contradictory principles, but they are not. Free will can take us far, suggests Dr. Schwartz’s research, but it cannot carry us infinitely beyond our genetic limits. Bill Gates is never going to be Bill Clinton, no matter how he polishes his social skills, and Bill Clinton can never be Bill Gates, no matter how much time he spends alone with a computer. We might call this the “rubber band theory” of personality. We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much. To understand why this might be so for high-reactives, it helps to look at what happens in the brain when we greet a stranger at a cocktail party.

Some psychologists map the two tendencies on vertical and horizontal axes, with the introvert-extrovert spectrum on the horizontal axis, and the anxious-stable spectrum on the vertical. With this model, you end up with four quadrants of personality types: calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts. In other words, you can be a shy extrovert, like Barbra Streisand, who has a larger-than-life personality and paralyzing stage fright; or a non-shy introvert, like Bill Gates, who by all accounts keeps to himself but is unfazed by the opinions of others. You can also, of course, be both shy and an introvert: T. S. Eliot was a famously private soul who wrote in “The Waste Land” that he could “show you fear in a handful of dust.” Many shy people turn inward, partly as a refuge from the socializing that causes them such anxiety. And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there’s something wrong with their preference for reflection, and partly because their physiologies, as we’ll see, compel them to withdraw from high-stimulation environments.