July 31, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Albuquerque extols its role in PC revolution

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Then, of course, we come to the contributions of Messrs. Gates and Allen, classmates at Seattle's ultra-exclusive Lakeside School in the late '60s.

In the early '70s, Gates, Allen and classmate Paul Gilbert decided to create software and hardware to automate the process of analyzing automobile traffic statistics, a task others at the school were being hired to do manually. So, they created a company, Traf-o-Data, and a computer, the Traf-o-Data 8008, to do the work.

The exhibit has one of the computers, as well as an early business card the three got printed up.

But it was their connection to MITS, and the Altair, that solidifies Albuquerque's place in history.

It goes like this: utilizing Intel's new 8080 chip, MITS built the Altair 8800, and the computer made it onto the cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics. Allen saw the issue while in Cambridge, Mass., and rushed it over to Gates, then a student at Harvard.

The two, ever the ambitious entrepreneurs, called MITS, fibbed and said they had a version of Basic for the computer. When they were asked to bring it right over, the two went into a paroxysm of programming, trying to get the software ready before their meeting.

Sure, it didn't work 100 percent as planned. But it was good enough for MITS, and a deal followed. Gates and Allen formed their company, Micro-Soft--they would change the spelling later--and moved to Albuquerque to be close to the Altair's manufacturer.

The exhibit has a whole section on this sequence of events, including a video of Gates and Allen recalling their sleight of hand; one of Allen's original Microsoft business cards; and, perhaps more interestingly, the original Microsoft partnership agreement the two crafted in 1976. There are other artifacts from this period, including the 1974 resumes of both Gates and Allen, and several tapes the two used when creating Basic for the Altair.

Naturally, given that the exhibit isn't just about Albuquerque and the founding of Microsoft, it also has a small section devoted to Apple and the Macintosh, as well as to the Web, and today's technology.

But given the city the exhibit is in, it's no wonder Albuquerque is the star.

It's just too bad the city's fate in the whole story isn't more glamorous. In the end, it's very much like the story of the small town the mammoth movie star came from, and boy, isn't the town proud?

But, these events are worth celebrating, and when put into the context of the full history of the microcomputer, the exhibit is a winner. If you're in the area, it's well worth visiting.

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4 comments

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I Still Have My Copy Of Jan '75 Popular Eelctronics...
And many more. It was an exciting period that today's youth wouldn't appreciate as much as we did. Hand coding in machine code was the rule of the day and if you had 4KB of static ram in your system you were on the top. Along with a surplus Teletype ASR33 with paper tape punch and reader you were in nirvana.
Today more power exists in a handheld calculator or any most other appliances.
We have come a long way since then but now the excitement of building your own from components is long gone except for the Microcontroller builders out there and even there most of the periphery that we used to have to bus together is incorporated into a single chip.
Many of us "older" geeks appreciate the success of the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and the "Woz" and thank them for their contributions, not to mention Intel and their 4004 chip which started it all.
Posted by fred dunn (793 comments )
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Not so!
Why don't you give credit for creating BASIC where it is due? Not Bill Gates but some long forgotten professor at Dartmouth, who couldn't be bothered with copyrighting it. Gates has never invented squat, his only talents are in buying the creations of others at bargain prices and in hiring excellent lawyers.
Posted by cephalis (26 comments )
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Read again....
Hi didn't say Bill invented BASIC - he said they wrote the *Altair* version of BASIC.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
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They did!
Posted by neilmcleod (2 comments )
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