Compiled by Dick Perron
The Altair 8800 is generally accepted as the first "Personal Computer". It was designed by Ed Roberts (where is he today?) and introduced by MITS in April 1974 at some of the "home-brew" computer clubs that were formed in what is now known as Silicon Valley as a build it yourself unit with chassis, power supply, system PCB, and loaded with 256 bytes of memory. It had been previously announced in Popular Electronics and MITS received some 4000 orders for the machine BEFORE it was available. There were no I/O devices, didn't have a monitor or a keyboard and there was no Operating System available. You programmed the system from the front panel (octal) switches. This first desktop computer spawned the idea that computers could be built small and developed without the resources of IBM, Univac, Burroughs and the other mega powers of the computer business at that time.
Paul Allen and Bill Gates wrote the Basic compiler used by MITS which was introduced in July of 1975 and started the software revolution for these micro's which ultimately spawned Apple, Sinclair, Kaypro and the other "personals" of the time.
The PBS networks are showing a two part series called "Triumph of the NERDS". This program chronicles the computer business as we know it today. Not IBM, Burroughs, Honeywell, Univac, Sperry, RCA and the giants that prospered through the mainframe era but today's rogues like Microsoft, Apple, Silicon Graphics and Oracle. Hear how Bill Gates and Paul Allen bought the unlimited rights to "Quick and Dirty Operating System" (QDOS) for $50K from their competitors across town (Seattle Computer Products) who needed capital to stay afloat.
Microsoft had IBM at their doorstep needing an O/S in order to market their first Personal Computer. Microsoft didn't have the combination of OS and Applications software that IBM was looking for so they sent them to Digital Research and Gary Kildall who wrote the CP/M operating system. Gary didn't have the time to talk to IBM and sent his wife Dorothy to the lobby to meet the IBM representatives and she refused to sign the IBM non disclosure agreement until their lawyers reviewed it. IBM wanted a commitment from someone by the end of the week to provide an O/S for their entry into the Personal Computer market. IBM went back to Microsoft a second time looking for their O/S and Microsoft capitalized on this opportunity by buying QDOS from SCP and selling it with their BASIC interpreter to IBM for $80K as PC/DOS 1.0 but kept the right to license MS-DOS to other companies.
This program is a MUST for the computer geek who wants to know how it all began. Not from one of today's vision statements but from a rogue community of "propeller heads" who feasted on code, bits and bytes and the challenge that IBM hasn't done it but we can.
The first true IBM bus compatible "clone" personal computer was the MPC introduced by Columbia Data Systems in June of 1982. There had been several MS-DOS compatible personals up to that time that ran DOS programs but they had proprietary busses or designs that limited their broad acceptance.
Columbia shipped the first hard drive based systems (5MB formatted capacity) before IBM did. Their controller was not compatible with the controller that IBM shipped later and Columbia quickly responded with a (mostly) IBM compatible replacement.
This page had previously reported that the Leading Edge Model D was the first IBM "clone" and I stand corrected. The correct information was provided by Lee Kupersmith at http://www.njmgallery.com
Click here for a time line document on the history of the Microcomputer.
The first electronic spreadsheet written for the personal computer was VisiCalc.
The first popular word processor for micro-computers was Electric Pencil written by Michael Shrayer. It was available in December 1976.
The first integrated circuit was produced by Texas Instruments on Sep 12th 1958.
Prior to this development an electronic circuit consisted of resistors, capacitors, transistors and wiring/etches. Each component was manufactured separately by different processes and integrated into an electronic circuit on a PCB using wiring/etches and solder connections to create a working circuit.
Jack Kilby came up with the idea of creating an "integrated circuit" using a silicon wafer. By adding impurities to the silicon they could create resistance, capacitance, transistor junctions and conductive paths on a single silicon "chip". This IC would be a self contained circuit with no external wiring or solder connections.
The first handheld calculator using IC's was produced by TI in 1967. It performed the 4 basic functions of the calculators of those days add, sub, mul, div.
Mr Alan Shugart is generally regarded as the inventor of the floppy drive while working for IBM in the late 1960's. He later founded Shugart Associates to design and manufacture floppy drives. David Noble, one of Shugart's engineer's at IBM actually came up with the idea of 8" flexible media inside of a cloth lined jacket.
More info on the beginnings of today's magnetic storage industry.