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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary
Altair 8800
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computer An Intel 8080-based machine made by MITS. The
Altair was the first popular microcomputer kit.
It appeared on the cover of the January 1975 "Popular
Electronics" magazine with an article (probably) by Leslie
Solomon. Leslie Solomon was an editor at Popular Electronics
who had a knack for spotting kits that would interest people
and make them buy the magazine. The Altair 8800 was one such.
The MITS guys took the prototype Altair to New York to show
Solomon, but couldn't get it to work after the flight.
Nonetheless, he liked it, and it appeared on the cover as "The
first minicomputer in a kit."
Solomon's blessing was important enough that some MITS
competitors named their product the "SOL" to gain his favour.
Some wags suggested SOL was actually an abbreviation for the
condition in which kit purchasers would find themselves.
Bill Gates and Paul Allen saw the article on the Altair 8800
in Popular Electronics. They realized that the Altair, which
was programmed via its binary front panel needed a high levellanguage. Legend has it that they called MITS with the claim
that they had a BASIC interpreter for the Altair. When
MITS asked them to demo it in Albuquerque, they wrote one on
the plane. On arrival, they entered the machine code via the
front panel and demonstrated and sold their "product." Thus
was born "Altair BASIC."
The original Altair BASIC ran in less than 4K of RAM because a
"loaded" Altair had 4K memory. Since there was no operatingsystem on the Altair, Altair BASIC included what we now think
of as BIOS. It was distributed on paper tape that could
be read on a Teletype. Later versions supported the 8K
Altair and the 16K diskette-based Altair (demonstrating
that, even in the 1970s, Microsoft was committed to
software bloat). Altair BASIC was ported to the Motorola6800 for the Altair 680 machine, and to other 8080-based
microcomputers produced by MITS' competitors.