In 1969 Intel was commissioned by a Japanese calculator company to produce an integrated circuit, a computer chip, for its line of calculators. Ted Hoff who was given the assignment was troubled by the fact that if he utilized standard methods of design the Japanese calculators would be just about as expensive as one of the new minicomputers that were being marketed and it would not do nearly asmuch. Hoff decided he would have to use a new approach to the calculator chip. Instead of "hardwiring" the logic of the calculator into the chip he created what is now called a microprocessor, a chip that can be programmed to perform the operations of a calculator; i.e., a computer on a slice of silicon. It was called the 4004 because that was the number of transistors it would replace. Thecontract gave the Japanese calculator company exclusive rights to the 4004. Hoff realized that the 4004 was a significant technical breakthrough and was concerned that Intel should not give it away to the Japanese calculator company as part of a relatively small contract. Fortunately for Intel the Japanese company did not realize the significance of what they had obtained and traded away their exclusiverights to the 4004 for a price reduction and some modifications in the calculator specifications.
Intel later developed another microprocessor for the Computer Terminal Corporation (CTC). This one was called the 8008. In this case CTC could purchase the product from Intel but Intel retained the right to market the 8008 to other customers. Intel began to create support for this programmablechip, the 8008. An employee of Intel, Adam Osborne, was given the assignment of writing manuals for the programming language for the 8008. Osborne later became important in the development of the personal computer for bringing about creation of the first portable computer; there is more about this below.
Gary Kildall, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, worked at Intel todevelop a language and programs for their microprocessors. Kildall also played another important role in the development of the personal computer in that he wrote the first operating system for a microprocessor. It was called CP/M. Without an operating system a personal computer is a very awkward device to use.
By the early 1970s there was a vast number of people who had had some experience withmainframe computers and would love to have a computer of their own. In Albuquerque, New Mexico there was a man named Ed Roberts who ran a business selling kits for assembling electronic devices. The company's name was MITS for Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems. The company was not doing too well and Ed Roberts was looking for some new products to increase sales. The calculator business wasbecoming saturated, especially when the chip manufacturers such as Texas Instruments began to market calculators themselves. After a disasterous attempt to sell kits for programmable calculators Ed Roberts was desperate for a new product. He decided to try to do what no one else had attempted, to create a kit for assembling a home computer. He decided to base it upon a new chip Intel had developed, the8080. Roberts negotiated a contract with Intel that gave him a low price on the 8080 chips if he could buy in large volume. About that time a magazine Popular Electronics, edited by Les Solomon, was looking for workable designs for desktop computers. Roberts promised Solomon a working model if Solomon would promote it through Popular Electronics. Ed Roberts decided to call his computer the Altairafter the name of a planet in a StarTrek episode Les Solomon's daughter was watching. Roberts and the MITS people worked feverishly on building a prototype of the Altair to send to Popular Electronics but when the deadline for publication arrived the model was not quite ready. Nevertheless Popular Electronics published a picture of the empty case of the Altair on its front cover. The computer...
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