Ed Roberts, usually credited with the "invention" of the personal computer, passed away on April 1 2010. His entreprenurial spirit took the raw chips that were rolling off the Intel production line and turned them into a product that fired the imagination - the Altair 8080. At the time Intel and a lot of other people really didn't have much idea what to do with the all-new "microprocessor". It was too underpowered to be a computer and too expensive to be a toy. Ed Roberts didn't see things that way and after gettng Intel to lower the price as part of a special deal, he put together a machine that looked like everyone's dream of a computer. It had banks of switches and flashing lights that just looked impressive enough for customers to want one, even if it wasn't clear what they could do with it. Eventually people found uses for the Altair and Paul Allen and Bill Gates started Microsoft by writing a Basic interpreter for it a the company's site in Albuquerque.
A late model Altair complete with 8 inch disk drive below
Ed Robert's company, MITS was initially too small to manufacture the Altair and so it was sold as a kit. But the sales figures were so good that very quickly a production line was set up. Many of the early personal computer technologies can be traced back to the the Altair - the S100 bus and and entire industry making expansion devices for example. Soon after the Altair other machines were created and the whole personal computer market simply grew until it reached the ubiquitous commodity we know today.
However, Ed Roberts wasn't part of its later development. He had a new career as a country doctor in Georgia where he died of pneumonia at the relatively early age of 68. Although he kept an Altair 8800 in his office not many of his patients realised how significant a role he had played in the history of personal computing.
Ed Roberts with an Altair
Bill Gates and Paul Allen issued a joint statement week rememberng Roberts and his role in the PC industry.
"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 ... We will always have many fond memories of working with Ed."
The history of the Atair and Ed Robert's role in its creation.
The story of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote the first Basic for the Altair.
New York Times obiturary: H. Edward Roberts, PC Pioneer, Dies at 68 New York Times April 2, 2010