From Switches to Screens:
The Altair 8800 and the Birth of Home Computing
In the modern era, we often take our computers for granted, using them for a multitude of tasks from communication to entertainment, work to even education. But have you ever wondered about the origins of the home computer, the device that kickstarted the digital revolution? The first home computer marked a pivotal moment in history. It paved the way for the interconnected world we live in today.
The Altair 8800
The Altair 8800, introduced in 1975, is widely recognized as the first commercially successful personal computer. Developed by MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems), the Altair was initially designed for hobbyists and electronics enthusiasts. Its success set the stage for the home computing revolution that was to come.
An Affordable Delight
What set the Altair 8800 apart was its affordability and accessibility. Prior to the Altair’s debut, computers were primarily found in universities, research institutions, and large corporations. This was due to their immense size and cost. The Altair, on the other hand, was compact enough to fit on a desk and was priced at a fraction of the cost of its predecessors. This shift made computing power available to a much wider audience, including individual hobbyists and also small businesses.
One of the defining features of the Altair was its use of switches on the front panel for input. Users had to manually flip these switches to enter machine code instructions, a far cry from the intuitive graphical interfaces we enjoy today. Despite its limitations, the Altair ignited a spark of interest in computing. This inspired individuals to experiment and explore the possibilities of this new technology.
The Birth Of Microsoft
The real breakthrough for home computing came when the Altair was featured on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine in January 1975. The cover story captured the imagination of many. This included a young college dropout named Bill Gates who, along with his partner Paul Allen, reached out to MITS with an offer to create a version of the BASIC programming language for the Altair. This marked the birth of Microsoft, a company that would go on to shape the software industry.