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          Enter the Altair!

    "Project Breakthrough!"... A minicomputer kit you can build for under $400 - that was a breakthrough indeed for the eager electronics hobbyists of the mid-70's. This announcement was to launch the Home Computer era, which was a precursor and catalyst of the Personal Computer revolution of the 1980's.
    The computer itself, produced by the tiny MITS company in Albuquerque, was hardly a rival for anything; as sold, it was almost useless. This did not deter the hobbyists -- they simply set out to improve on it. Two of them, William Gates and Paul Allen, actually developed a BASIC interpreter for the Altair, and sold it through their new start-up, which they called Microsoft.
Altair kit announced
January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics magazine
Click photo to enlarge
    The bold announcement appears on the January 1975 cover of Popular Electronics magazine, along with an "under-$90 Scientific Calculator". Those were exciting times, with innovations in Silicon chip technology enabling ever-cheaper Do It Yourself projects. The Altair (named after a destination of the USS Enterprise, then under Captain James T. Kirk) sold by the thousands.
    The computer was based on Intel's "8080 central processing unit IC" - the term "Microprocessor" was evidently not yet in use. The idea of putting an entire CPU on a chip originated in Intel 4 years earlier, with the 4004 4-bit processor; the 8080 was a more advanced 8-bit processor and was to become an industry standard chip until it was overtaken by the 16-bit processors that enabled the first IBM PC.
    Here are some segments from the article... note the "small sampling of the thousands of possible applications" for a computer "so powerful". Also note the talk of a "revolutionary development". In a way, this was marketing hype; but coupled with the minds and mindset of the young people who adopted this machine, the article you see was revolutionary indeed. In hindsight, this January issue of PE ushered in the ubiquitous computing era we live in today. Altair article   Altair article
Click a photo to enlarge
Exhibit provenance:
    This one I bought in 1975, when it arrived at the newsstands, as was my habit every month. Unfortunately, I never bought the kit - so I don't have an Altair, only a magazine...

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