back to article Computer pioneer and Gates mentor Ed Roberts dies

Ed Roberts, the pioneering computer engineer and early mentor to Bill Gates and Paul Allen, died Thursday at age 68. Roberts will perhaps be best remembered for the Altair 8800, developed and marketed in both kit and assembled forms by his company, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, better known by its acronym, MITS …


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  2. James Loughner

    My Altair crys

    The Altair in by basement is weeping.

  3. Paul Gomme

    Paul Gomme

    To Ed Roberts,

    For those about to code,

    We salute you.

    Rest in peace,

    The Modern Personal Computer Industry.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Why "Bill" is Bill...

    He's known as Bill because that's less cumbersome than "William Henry Gates the third" and is better than "Trey", which is what he was called as a child. His full name has been common knowledge among long-term tech people for a long time. It's you newbies who are unaware.

    I have a S-100 bus system (not a Altair or Imsai, unfortunantly; they're worth thousands these days) in the closet to my left, along with a Z-80 system, a couple of 6502-based computers in the back room, and bigger iron in the garage (Digital VAX-6200s).

    Ah, memories...


  5. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns


    I have still not seen anywhere a serious look at how William Gates II and the family law firm benefited the young Bill 3rd in every legal issue from ownership of proprietary code on the MITS Altair on through to IBM and the MS-DOS license. Is there a book I've missed covering this?

  6. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    Lots of things I never knew about him.

    RIP, Godspeed. Here's a beer, mate!

  7. ShaggyDoggy


    Indeed, I've often wondered how one could write a Basic inperpreter for MITS then weeks later the same code appears shrinkwrapped as the first MS product. Whose IP was it ? Is the whole MS edifice based on software theft ?? Oh the irony ...

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Whose code?

      Why wasn't MS Basic simply hacked over a Weekend From Dartmouth Basic.?

  8. Al 4

    FIrst machine I programmed

    I wrote my first program on one. I still have the Popular Electronics magazine that the article about the computer along with all you needed to know to build your own. I also remember another article about the fact that the Smithsonian has a reward for the machine displayed in the article, the first one, because it was lost in the return shipment from the Popular Electronics photo shoot.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lost in Transit

    So things getting lost in shipment happen in the USA too? You folks should checkout the UK's Royal Mail.

    You address something with the full and correct postal address and yet somehow it still goes missing. Trust the Royal Mail? Full of thieves in my opinion.


  10. Lewis Mettler 1

    in 1974 ...

    In 1974 I opened a law office and used a programmable calculator to do the accounting, word processing, tax analysis and just about anything else needed. All of the software had been written in the years before on the same machine. It offered a letter quality printer and a 250 lpm thermal printer. Yep, the wrote all of the code.

    Back in those days shrink wrap was not a word nor a concept. Everything was custom written. And the word processor had a spell checker and global search and replace.

    The HP machine came out in 1972 and by 1973 or so sported a hard disc drive as well. That machine (9830A, see for photos and details) came out far ahead of the toy microprocessors mention in this article. And it was from HP which meant full in office support was also available.

    By the time the MITS came out, the HP machine was being coded to run the experiments on the first Mars landers. The HP unit was actually bought off the shelf after the craft took off for Mars but was programmed to replace a switch panel before it had arrived. Top quality hardware not the toys of the day like the MITS units.

    No offense to MITS but for office use and employee training etc., you need a quality machine from a real technology company such as HP and in office support from the vendor. HP provided that. Check out the HP machine at I bought my unit in 1972.

    Wang was the other technology company that produced quality programmable machines quite suitable for the office in 1972.

    The MITS might have been a microprocessor unit but was hardly usable in any business environment. The HP unit certainly was.

    1. asdf

      HP shill in the house

      Oh come on the only reason HP hasn't gone the way of its close cousin DEC is because it is the worlds highest tech ink dealer. I am not saying HP hasn't been revolutionary at times I am just saying you could give props to other equally if not more important business focused companies at the time such as DEC and IBM as well.

    2. Steve Coffman

      Methinks you've missed the point

      The MITS and other systems of its time came out primarily as HOBBIEST computers... a computer the average Joe who was interested in such things could actually afford and be able to tinker around with it. No offense to your "real" HP computer, but many people started out in computing with these so called "toys". I got my start years later on an Atari 8-bit computer, which you would still probably consider a toy, but it lead me to learning a number of programming languages, going to college to try for an engineering degree and ultimately endning up with a career in the IT sector. So who cares if the MITS wasn't "usable" in a business environment? That's not what it was developed for...

  11. Dave 32


    "Roberts developed the first MITS products in the late 19602: telemetry transmitters and tracking lights for model rockets."

    Huh? Are we that far in the future yet? I could have sworn that it was just 19600 the other day... ;-)


    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: 19602?

      I guess someone roughed out a timeline for this story in Excel.

  12. Douglas Fingles
    Gates Halo

    Bill Gates Came to Visit

    Just as an addendum, Bill Gates came to visit Dr. Roberts just before he passed on. Also, the comments of the people of Cochran and from other places around the world on the guestbook are a wonderful tribute to this man.

    His obit can be found here:

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