Thursday, April 1, 2010

Remembering April Fools Day 2010

No one day can be a “perfect” day, where everything can be made into a joke and laughed off. As we celebrate this April Fools day with Google and Johns Hopkins University receiving new names and other pranks happening, we also must remember those who helped get us where we are now. Ed Roberts, one of these unknown pioneers, passed away from pneumonia today. While he may be relatively unknown, his impact on the digital world is still being felt. “Ed Roberts was the founder of MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems) and inventor of the Altair 8800, widely credited as the world’s first personal computer. It was featured on the cover of Popular Electronics in 1975, when Paul Allen and Bill Gates contacted Roberts and offered to write software for the machine. Gates and Allen worked with MITS in Albuquerque, NM, and started Microsoft. In 1977, Roberts sold MITS and retired to Georgia where he studied medicine and became a small-town doctor.” [1]

After Gates and Allen had written software for the Intel 8008 microprocessor, they contacted Roberts in order to run a BASIC interpreter. “On July 22, 1975 MITS signed a contract for the Altair BASIC with Bill Gates and Paul Allen. They received $3000 at signing and a royalty for each copy of BASIC sold with a cap of $180,000.” [2] While Gates and Allen were given a meager start, they were on their way to creating the largest software company in US history to this day. This stepping stone of joining both software and hardware has helped bring us to where we are now – palm-sized computer devices you can carry anywhere with performance doubling every other year, and with which you can communicate with anyone around the world. For this we remember where we came from, and are grateful.