The Altair 8800 represents a fundamental chapter in the history of computer evolution. This extraordinary device, born in 1975 as a mounting kit, marked the beginning of an era in which computers became accessible to ordinary people, helping to define the concept of "personal computer". Subsequently, in 1977, other computers were released for the general public: the Commodore PET 2001, the Apple II and the TRS-80.
In the video, Sergio Gervasini of ESoCoP explains it.
The Altair 8800: a technological revolution
Before the arrival of the Altair 8800, computers were expensive, huge, and used primarily by companies for specific purposes. The idea of having a computer at home was considered a luxury out of reach for most people. But that all changed when the Altair 8800 was presented in assembly kit form in Popular Electronics magazine. With an incredibly affordable price tag of just $600, the Altair 8800 allowed anyone to own a real computer.
Bill Gates and the birth of Microsoft
The Altair 8800 also played a crucial role in the birth of Microsoft. Bill Gates, along with Paul Allen, saw an opportunity to develop a BASIC interpreter for the Altair, paving the way for a new software market. In fact, Microsoft's first steps were taken while Gates was still a college student. This partnership with MITS (the manufacturer of the Altair 8800) marked the beginning of a technology empire we know today as Microsoft.
The personal computer catches on
After the Altair 8800, other manufacturers also began to develop computers designed for the general public. In 1977, the Commodore PET 2001, Apple II and TRS-80 from Radio Shack were released. These machines have been instrumental in transforming computers from expensive business tools to devices accessible to everyone.
The Commodore PET 2001 was a complete computer with keyboard, monitor and cassette recorder, giving users the ability to save and load programs. The Apple II, on the other hand, introduced the concept of a modular computer, in which the monitor and disc player could be purchased separately, making the system more flexible. The TRS-80, marketed primarily in the United States, followed a similar philosophy to the Apple II, offering a computer with separate accessories.
For the processors used in the computers described in this article, they are all 8-bit. The Altair 8800 is equipped with an Intel 8080; the Commodore PET 2001 and Apple II are equipped with the MOS 6502. Instead, the TRS-80 Radio Shack is equipped with a Z80 microprocessor.
The key role of the BASIC language since the Altair 8800
A key feature of these computers was the use of the programming language. BASIC, which made them accessible even to those who did not have advanced programming skills. BASIC, short for "Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code", was a programming language designed to be easy to learn and use.
Other interviews conducted at Varese Retrocomputing 2023
During the event of 17 September 2023 in Tradate (VA), the Varese Retrocomputing 2023, I conducted several interviews with the various exhibitors. Don't miss the opportunity to explore the fascinating history of computers and vintage computing, by subscribing to the @ValorosoIT channels on the various social networks.