Edward Roberts, Developer Of The First Commercial PC, Dies At 68

Roberts is also credited with helping to launch the technology careers of Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen.

Roberts founded Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems and in 1975 developed the MITS Altair 8800, seen today as the first commercially available personal computer. The PC, which lacked a keyboard and a monitor, was sold as a self-assembly kit for hobbyists for $395. It was based on, and took its name from, the Intel 8080 microprocessor.

The Altair 8800 attracted the attention of Gates and Allen, who saw the computer on the cover of Popular Electronics magazine. They contacted Roberts and offered to write software for the PC, a program known as Altair-Basic that marked the launch of Microsoft.

Microsoft was originally based in Albuquerque, N.M, nextdoor to MITS before the software-giant-to-be moved to Redmond, Wash.

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"Ed was truly a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, and didn't always get the recognition he deserved," Gates and Allen said in a statement posted Thursday on Gates' Web page.

"The day our first untested software worked on his Altair was the start of a lot of great things. We will always have many fond memories of working with Ed in Albuquerque, in the MITS office right on Route 66 -- where so many exciting things happened that none of us could have imagined back then."

The Altair 8800 enjoyed some commercial success and Roberts sold his company in 1977 to Pertec, a hard drive manufacturer, for $6 million. Roberts went on to attend medical school and set up a medical practice in Georgia.

Roberts died after a long bout of pneumonia. Gates is reported to have visited the ailing Roberts in the hospital last week.