Inventor of the first personal computer dies

7 Apr 2010

The man who created the world’s first personal computer and who inspired Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Paul Allen to revolutionise the PC industry has died.

Few people are aware of who H Edward Roberts actually is but his impact on the technology world of the 1970s and 1980s set in motion the revolution we all enjoy today. Roberts died on 1 April at the age of 68 after a bout of pneumonia.

Back in the day when personal computers were bought as kits that had to be assembled, Roberts invented the world’s first minicomputer, the Altair 8800.

The Altair 8800 was sold for US$397 and is considered to be the world’s first personal computer. It sported the Intel 8080 microprocessor.

H Edward Roberts

H Edward Roberts

Roberts founded Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) in 1974 and developed electronic calculators.

But it was the Altair 8800 that inspired Microsoft CEO Bill Gates to develop his own computer device and subsequently the Windows operating system.

Gates and Paul Allen joined MITS in the 1970s and the Altair BASIC was Microsoft’s first product.

Roberts sold MITS to Pertec Computer in 1977 and retired to Georgia where he farmed, studied medicine and eventually became a small-town doctor.

By John Kennedy

Photo: The Altair 8800

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years