Nearly 300 million PCs were shipped worldwide last year, making a profit of more than $400 Billion. Yet only 40 years ago, virtually no one had heard of a personal computer.
The Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry System or MITS was founded in Albuquerque by Ed Roberts.
In January of 1975, MITS’ revolutionary computer kit, the ALTAIR 8800, appeared on the cover of ‘Popular Electronics’ magazine.
Although today computers come in all shapes and sizes, there are still two essential requirements: hardware and software.
“The only way to enter a program into an ALTAIR computer in the early days was through the front panel switches and you had to know machine language to do that. SO they put out the feelers for people who could write an operating system, and that’s when Bill Gates and Paul Allen and Microsoft came into the picture,” says Steve Shepard, former MITS employee.
Allen was flown out to Albuquerque to test the paper code he and Gates had worked on back in Boston. Once it was established that the code did work, sales of the ALTAIR with ‘BASIC’ shot through the roof, and so was the birth of the first operating system.
Wedeen explains what happened next, “they were hoping to sell 100 to 200 kits the first year, and they got 600 orders the first couple of weeks. And all of a sudden they were in business and it went from 4 people to 200 people.”
Less than a year after they arrived in Albuquerque, Gates and Allen established ‘Micro-Computer Software’ or ‘Microsoft’ for short.
“This is the genius of Bill, really. He’s the one that understood it was really the operating system that was the heart of it all.”
Gates negotiated a royalty with Roberts for every copy of ‘BASIC’ sold with the ALTAIR. In addition, he sought out deals with other large electronics companies such as Radio Shack and IBM.
Roberts, however, believed that ‘BASIC’ belonged to MITS and he sued Gates’ and Allen’s Microsoft. At that time, Gates and Allen had difficulty finding legal representation in Albuquerque. It was then that Gates reached out to his family in Washington.
Microsoft was then relocated, Gates was reunited with his family, and they ultimately won their case against MITS.
In 1978 MITS was sold to Pertec Computers. MITS ultimately closed its doors in 1980 while Microsoft flourished, launching IBM BASIC, which evolved to MS-DOS, which then became WINDOWS in 1985.
‘Start-Up: Albuquerque and the Personal Computer Revolution‘ is showing now through November at the New Mexico Natural History Museum
“It’s changed our lives, it’s changed the way we gain knowledge, and so it was very appropriate for us to have it here,” says Margie Marino with The New Mexico Natural History Museum.
Wedeen is more reflective about the creation of the PC here in Albuquerque: “Maybe one day we’ll look back and say, ‘of course New Mexico was one of the hottest innovation and ingenuity states in the country. We should’ve known that because all of these great things started there.'”