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Re: Interview

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  • alltare
    Another right time/right place thing that made the Altair the first *commercially viable* computer was Altair BASIC. Bill and Paul developed this high level
    Message 1 of 7 , Jun 1, 2003
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      Another right time/right place thing that made the Altair the first
      *commercially viable* computer was Altair BASIC. Bill and Paul
      developed this high level programming language shortly after the
      introduction of the Altair, and specifically for it (no, they didn't
      invent BASIC- I think Dartmouth College did that. But they did write
      the Altair version). It was the first affordable functional language
      that took users beyond machine and assembler programming. This
      allowed business software to be developed more easily (accounting,
      word processing, etc.), and the Altair became the first business
      computer too. When the market grew beyond hobbyists, the horizon was
      greatly expanded. If it werent for cash flow problems and then the
      Pertec takeover and mismanagement, MITS might well still be a major
      PC manufacturer. It's not generally known, but MITS had a machine
      based on Motorola's 68000 CPU ready to go into production when Pertec
      closed the doors. This would have beaten the Macintosh to the market
      by years. Rumor had it that there was also a 50MHz machine in
      development. Remember that this was in the days when 4MHz was
      screamingly fast.

      MITS put companies other than Microsoft on the map. I believe
      Peachtree Software still exists. Their accounting software was
      originally written for the Altair, under MITS' name. Of course, any
      company that made Altair/S-100 buss hardware could trace its roots to
      MITS. MITS printed the first PC magazine long befor "Byte" and
      sponsored the first personal computer exposition long before COMDEX.
      Not bad for a company that closed its doors after selling computers
      for only about five years.

      Steve
      ==============================

      --- In altaircomputerclub@yahoogroups.com, "stevenaleach"
      <leachm003@h...> wrote:
      > I would suggest, if you can find it, pick up a copy of Stephen
      Levy's book "Hackers -
      > Heros of the computer revolution". This is a terrific book that
      covers computer
      > history beginning with the Tech Model Railroad club at MIT in the
      early 1960's on
      > through the Altair, Apple, IBM PC, etc.
      >
      > > I am a high school student doing research for a history project
      on
      > > the development of the personal computer. Through my research, I
      > > have found that the MITS Altair 8800 is considered the first
      > > microcomputer. I found this group and thought someone here might
      be
      >
      > Just to put things in perspective, as I'm sure many people will
      point out, the the Altair
      > was not actually the first personal computer, or even the first
      commercially produced
      > personal computer. The Mark 8 for example was a personal computer
      that just barely
      > predated the Altair, it was based on the intel 8008 processor.
      Plans for the Mark 8
      > ran in another national electronics magazine, and full schematic
      plans and even
      > printed circuit boards could be ordered. Other machines were
      created by hobbiests,
      > even some based off of the intel 4004, and others with no
      microprocessor at all that
      > were built entirely from TTL logic circuits. There were several
      commercially produced
      > machines that could be considered hobbiest/personal computers that
      predated the
      > altair was well. There were even publications for homebrew
      computer hobbiests at
      > the time that the Altair was created.
      >
      > The Altair does hold a very important place in history however.
      Basically it was a
      > matter of the right place at the right time. The 8080 processor
      was powerful enough
      > for a very useful machine where it's predecessor the 8008 was
      rather limited. The
      > Altair came at a time when the components were available *just*
      easily enough, and
      > the prices *just* low enough to make hobbiest computers practical,
      especially since
      > Ed Roberts managed to work out a deal with Intel to buy
      cosmetically damaged 8080
      > processors for $75 a piece when the normal price was $360 a piece.
      (the $360 price
      > was an intentional pun on the IBM system 360 computer). Consider
      also that unlike
      > the Mark 8, you could get a kit complete with every part you
      needed. With the Mark
      > 8, you essentially got schematics, boards if you ordered them, and
      a shopping list.
      >
      > The Altair also provided a logical expansion bus which was probably
      one of it's most
      > important attributes. The Altair bus, later called the S-100 bus
      by IMSAI, was pretty
      > much the standard for personal computers until the IBM PC came
      along and
      > eventually ended the world of hobbiest computers. The S-100 bus
      made expansion
      > hardware by other manufacturers possible. The Altair was also
      produced and sold in
      > large enough numbers to create a worthwhile market for hardware and
      programs. It's
      > sort of the chicken and egg thing.
      >
      > Oh, and it seems that the Altair bus might never have existed if it
      weren't for the fact
      > that the original prototype that was shipped to Popular Electronics
      got lost. Ed
      > Roberts had originally designed the altair as a set of boards
      stacked on top of each
      > other with spacers in between. This is how the machine that was
      sent to PE was set
      > up, he went on to make some changes, including the bus because it
      was neater and
      > cleaner than the ribbon cables. The Altair on the PE cover (you
      can see a picture of it
      > on the home page here) is actually a mockup since the real
      prototype got lost. There
      > is nothing inside that box.
      >
      > You should consider too that the Altair came out when there was
      still a thriving
      > interest in home electronic projects in this country. It was often
      cheaper to build your
      > own equipment thant to buy it. This is no longer the case, and
      our attention spans
      > have collapsed so much, and our desire for instant gratification
      has become so great
      > that this is no longer possible. Heathkit is no more, they are out
      of business. Radio
      > shack barely carries electronic components anymore (Try finding
      basic 7400 series
      > chips at a Radio Shack anymore). Once again, the Altair came about
      at the right time.
    • TMollerup
      Steve, You mentioned below that MITS was going to place a Motorola 68000 into production, but closed its doors before doing so. I had previously assumed the
      Message 2 of 7 , Sep 8, 2003
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        Steve,

        You mentioned below that MITS was going to place a Motorola 68000
        into production, but closed its doors before doing so. I had
        previously assumed the Altair 680 was just that. What is the
        difference between the 8800 and the 680? Additionally, what is the
        8800b? Thank you for taking the time to write-up the message below,
        and for answering my questions. This forum is rich with information.

        Todd Mollerup

        --- In altaircomputerclub@yahoogroups.com, alltare <no_reply@y...>
        wrote:
        > Another right time/right place thing that made the Altair the first
        > *commercially viable* computer was Altair BASIC. Bill and Paul
        > developed this high level programming language shortly after the
        > introduction of the Altair, and specifically for it (no, they
        didn't
        > invent BASIC- I think Dartmouth College did that. But they did
        write
        > the Altair version). It was the first affordable functional
        language
        > that took users beyond machine and assembler programming. This
        > allowed business software to be developed more easily (accounting,
        > word processing, etc.), and the Altair became the first business
        > computer too. When the market grew beyond hobbyists, the horizon
        was
        > greatly expanded. If it werent for cash flow problems and then the
        > Pertec takeover and mismanagement, MITS might well still be a major
        > PC manufacturer. It's not generally known, but MITS had a machine
        > based on Motorola's 68000 CPU ready to go into production when
        Pertec
        > closed the doors. This would have beaten the Macintosh to the
        market
        > by years. Rumor had it that there was also a 50MHz machine in
        > development. Remember that this was in the days when 4MHz was
        > screamingly fast.
        >
        > MITS put companies other than Microsoft on the map. I believe
        > Peachtree Software still exists. Their accounting software was
        > originally written for the Altair, under MITS' name. Of course,
        any
        > company that made Altair/S-100 buss hardware could trace its roots
        to
        > MITS. MITS printed the first PC magazine long befor "Byte" and
        > sponsored the first personal computer exposition long before
        COMDEX.
        > Not bad for a company that closed its doors after selling computers
        > for only about five years.
        >
        > Steve
        > ==============================
        >
        > --- In altaircomputerclub@yahoogroups.com, "stevenaleach"
        > <leachm003@h...> wrote:
        > > I would suggest, if you can find it, pick up a copy of Stephen
        > Levy's book "Hackers -
        > > Heros of the computer revolution". This is a terrific book that
        > covers computer
        > > history beginning with the Tech Model Railroad club at MIT in the
        > early 1960's on
        > > through the Altair, Apple, IBM PC, etc.
        > >
        > > > I am a high school student doing research for a history project
        > on
        > > > the development of the personal computer. Through my research,
        I
        > > > have found that the MITS Altair 8800 is considered the first
        > > > microcomputer. I found this group and thought someone here
        might
        > be
        > >
        > > Just to put things in perspective, as I'm sure many people will
        > point out, the the Altair
        > > was not actually the first personal computer, or even the first
        > commercially produced
        > > personal computer. The Mark 8 for example was a personal
        computer
        > that just barely
        > > predated the Altair, it was based on the intel 8008 processor.
        > Plans for the Mark 8
        > > ran in another national electronics magazine, and full schematic
        > plans and even
        > > printed circuit boards could be ordered. Other machines were
        > created by hobbiests,
        > > even some based off of the intel 4004, and others with no
        > microprocessor at all that
        > > were built entirely from TTL logic circuits. There were several
        > commercially produced
        > > machines that could be considered hobbiest/personal computers
        that
        > predated the
        > > altair was well. There were even publications for homebrew
        > computer hobbiests at
        > > the time that the Altair was created.
        > >
        > > The Altair does hold a very important place in history however.
        > Basically it was a
        > > matter of the right place at the right time. The 8080 processor
        > was powerful enough
        > > for a very useful machine where it's predecessor the 8008 was
        > rather limited. The
        > > Altair came at a time when the components were available *just*
        > easily enough, and
        > > the prices *just* low enough to make hobbiest computers
        practical,
        > especially since
        > > Ed Roberts managed to work out a deal with Intel to buy
        > cosmetically damaged 8080
        > > processors for $75 a piece when the normal price was $360 a
        piece.
        > (the $360 price
        > > was an intentional pun on the IBM system 360 computer). Consider
        > also that unlike
        > > the Mark 8, you could get a kit complete with every part you
        > needed. With the Mark
        > > 8, you essentially got schematics, boards if you ordered them,
        and
        > a shopping list.
        > >
        > > The Altair also provided a logical expansion bus which was
        probably
        > one of it's most
        > > important attributes. The Altair bus, later called the S-100 bus
        > by IMSAI, was pretty
        > > much the standard for personal computers until the IBM PC came
        > along and
        > > eventually ended the world of hobbiest computers. The S-100 bus
        > made expansion
        > > hardware by other manufacturers possible. The Altair was also
        > produced and sold in
        > > large enough numbers to create a worthwhile market for hardware
        and
        > programs. It's
        > > sort of the chicken and egg thing.
        > >
        > > Oh, and it seems that the Altair bus might never have existed if
        it
        > weren't for the fact
        > > that the original prototype that was shipped to Popular
        Electronics
        > got lost. Ed
        > > Roberts had originally designed the altair as a set of boards
        > stacked on top of each
        > > other with spacers in between. This is how the machine that was
        > sent to PE was set
        > > up, he went on to make some changes, including the bus because it
        > was neater and
        > > cleaner than the ribbon cables. The Altair on the PE cover (you
        > can see a picture of it
        > > on the home page here) is actually a mockup since the real
        > prototype got lost. There
        > > is nothing inside that box.
        > >
        > > You should consider too that the Altair came out when there was
        > still a thriving
        > > interest in home electronic projects in this country. It was
        often
        > cheaper to build your
        > > own equipment thant to buy it. This is no longer the case, and
        > our attention spans
        > > have collapsed so much, and our desire for instant gratification
        > has become so great
        > > that this is no longer possible. Heathkit is no more, they are
        out
        > of business. Radio
        > > shack barely carries electronic components anymore (Try finding
        > basic 7400 series
        > > chips at a Radio Shack anymore). Once again, the Altair came
        about
        > at the right time.
      • Larry T.
        ... Todd The 8800B was an upgraded 8800. MITS improved the powersupply, included a full chasis monterboard (instead of 4 slots then adding on 4 slots at a
        Message 3 of 7 , Sep 8, 2003
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          --- In altaircomputerclub@yahoogroups.com, TMollerup <no_reply@y...>
          wrote:
          > Steve,
          >
          > You mentioned below that MITS was going to place a Motorola 68000
          > into production, but closed its doors before doing so. I had
          > previously assumed the Altair 680 was just that. What is the
          > difference between the 8800 and the 680? Additionally, what is the
          > 8800b? Thank you for taking the time to write-up the message below,
          > and for answering my questions. This forum is rich with information.
          >
          > Todd Mollerup
          >

          Todd

          The 8800B was an 'upgraded' 8800. MITS improved the powersupply,
          included a full chasis monterboard (instead of 4 slots then adding on
          4 slots at a time).

          The 680 was a totally different design using the Motorola 6800 8-bit
          processor. MITS had a full line of cards for this system using a
          different bus layout. The main board had the CPU and front panel
          logic on it (and I think some RAM) then the chassis had a vertical
          mother borad instead of horizontal like the 8800's.
          Larry
        • TMollerup
          Ahh. Larry. That clears up years of confusion. Now I understand that the 68000 and the 6800 are not the same. Seeing both, I had assumed as a kid, the last
          Message 4 of 7 , Sep 8, 2003
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            Ahh. Larry. That clears up years of confusion. Now I understand that
            the 68000 and the 6800 are not the same. Seeing both, I had assumed
            as a kid, the last zero was optional, much the way people would say
            version 3 vs. version 3.0. I should have assumed different. Of
            course, when I was in high school (I'm 36), it was difficult to find
            information. The libraries were behind the times and the teachers
            knew little. At my boarding school, we pushed them. One of the upper
            classmen put together a Timex Sinclair Z-80 if I remember the name
            correctly. Everyone circled around him in his dorm room, not only
            because he had a Timex computer, but he had the best soldering iron
            in the dorm.

            I put together a little kit computer my Physics teacher though would
            feed my thirst. I don't remember much about the procesor used in the
            kit, but I loved the 8 bit LED binary readout. Just the counting
            routine was wonderful. It made binary crystal clear, which certainly
            has helped me over my life time. (Surprisingly, most computer people
            don't understand something as basic as binary)

            Well, now I understand that the 6800 (6809) was the 8-bit processor
            and the 68000 was the 16-bit. I remember everyone, back in the 80's,
            putting down the 8088 design. Microsoft even seemed to support the
            idea of a complete migration away from the platform with the hardware
            abstration layer (HAL) introduced with Windows NTAS 3.1.

            When I bought my Altair in 2000, I was hoping to continue learning
            about basic processor operation, in addition to owning a piece of
            history. I would be picking-up where I left off in high school. I
            have been in technology my whole life, and feel I'll be missing out
            if I don't someday learn how to toggle data into a processor.
          • Larry T.
            ... that ... find ... upper ... 80 s, ... hardware ... Your Altair is still a good tool. That is why I will be keeping several different versions running
            Message 5 of 7 , Sep 9, 2003
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              --- In altaircomputerclub@yahoogroups.com, TMollerup <no_reply@y...>
              wrote:
              > Ahh. Larry. That clears up years of confusion. Now I understand
              that
              > the 68000 and the 6800 are not the same. Seeing both, I had assumed
              > as a kid, the last zero was optional, much the way people would say
              > version 3 vs. version 3.0. I should have assumed different. Of
              > course, when I was in high school (I'm 36), it was difficult to
              find
              > information. The libraries were behind the times and the teachers
              > knew little. At my boarding school, we pushed them. One of the
              upper
              ...

              > Well, now I understand that the 6800 (6809) was the 8-bit processor
              > and the 68000 was the 16-bit. I remember everyone, back in the
              80's,
              > putting down the 8088 design. Microsoft even seemed to support the
              > idea of a complete migration away from the platform with the
              hardware
              > abstration layer (HAL) introduced with Windows NTAS 3.1.

              Your Altair is still a good tool. That is why I will be keeping
              several different versions running myself.

              As far as the 6800/6809/68000:
              MITS and SWTP (Southwest Technical Products) both had 6800 systems
              Of course, Apple, Atari, and Comodore had 6502 systems.
              I do not know if anyone had 6809 systems, the 6809 as a very strange
              beast indeed. I'm not sure, but it may have been the 8088 of the 68000
              family.
              The 68000 ended up in the Apple Lisa and Macintosh family, Atari
              ST/TT/Falcon family and the Comodore Amiga family
              The 8088 was an 8-bit bus version of the 8086, which was the parent of
              the 80x86 and Pentium CPU familys from Intel. (If you look back to
              articles when the IBM PC was introduced, Intel made statements to the
              effect that they did not know the 8088 was a 16-bit chip!)
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