Altair Collectors Association

From: Doug Yowza <>
Date: Tue Dec 8 18:13:20 1998

On Tue, 8 Dec 1998, cswiger wrote:

> However - I do see it as the 'Model-T' of PERSONAL computing - sure
> everything had been done before but was usually priced out of the
> average joe/jane's reach unless they worked in a research institute or
> business, in which case they weren't always allowed free reign to do
> whatever they wanted.

As you probably know, the Scelbi-8H came well before the Altair and had a
similar price. But the Altair got a cover story in Popular Electronics,
and the Scelbi didn't. Of course, the Mark-8 got an even earlier cover
story in Radio Electronics, but you couldn't buy a kit like you could with
the Altair.

And don't forget that once you added memory, storage, and a TTY to your
Altair, you were talking Big Bucks, and something like an HP 9830 (1972)
starts to look like a very attractive alternative (assuming you knew they
existed -- HP didn't run ads in Popular Electronics, for example).

I think the infatuation with the Altair today is due to reporters and
popular writers repeating each other over and over that the Altair was
"the first personal computer", which is nonsense. Low-priced personal
computers for education and experimentation have been available since 1950
or so. They were basically toys, but so was the Altair when it came out.

I don't even buy the idea that the Altair started the Hobbyist Movement.
It seems there were quite a few newsletters and computer clubs that
pre-dated the Altair, and they discussed both 8008-based machines and
surplus DEC stuff.

> Also the Altair was a very open hardware platform, you had the
> schematics, you got the educational experience of actually building and
> usually repairing it; the more experienced could add just about anything
> they could dream of plus all the published construction articles one
> could build on their kitchen table without applying for a govt.
> research grant.

Yes, I think accessibility was the key. That's why the Altair bus was so
quickly cloned, and it's probably also why a weenie like Gates latched
onto the machine as a target for his "quality software".

-- Doug
Received on Tue Dec 08 1998 - 18:13:20 GMT

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