Henry Edward Roberts, known as the “father of the personal computer” and designer of the MITS Altair 8800, died of pneumonia April 1 in Georgia at the age of 68, the Associated Press reported.
Roberts, who founded Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) in 1970, designed the Altair 8800 in 1975. The computer kit, which employed Intel’s 8080 microprocessor, sold for $375 and inspired future Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen to offer to work for Roberts writing code for the computer. Gates and Allen soon wound up moving to Albuquerque, N.M., where MITS was located, to found Microsoft (then known as Micro-Soft). In 1977, Roberts sold the company and became a doctor in the small town of Cochran, Ga.
The Altair 8800, featured on the cover of technology magazine “Popular Electronics” in 1975, bears little resemblance to the compact, design-conscious computers of today.
It lacked a screen and was operated by a series of switches to feed binary data directly into the memory of the machine and a number of red LEDs to read those values back out. Roberts’ son David told the AP that Roberts was hoping to work with Gates on nanotechnology and despite his career in medicine had always kept up on technological innovations in the computing space.
“He did think it was pretty neat, some of the stuff they’re doing with the processors,” Roberts told the AP.
Gates and Allen released a joint statement regarding the death of Roberts, expressing a deep sadness over the loss of their “friend and early mentor” and offering condolences for his friends and family.
“Ed was truly a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, and didn’t always get the recognition he deserved,” the statement read. “He was an intense man with a great sense of humor, and he always cared deeply about the people who worked for him, including us. Ed was willing to take a chance on us-two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace-and we have always been grateful to him.”
Allen and Gates also remarked about the day their first untested software worked on Roberts’ Altair as 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 statement continued. “More than anything, what we will always remember about Ed was how deeply compassionate he was-and that was never more true than when he decided to spend the second half of his life going to medical school and working as a country doctor making house calls. He will be missed by many and we were lucky to have known him.”