TweetFollow Us on Twitter

Apr 86 History
Volume Number:2
Issue Number:4
Column Tag:Historical Computing

A Pioneer looks back

By Dick Heiser, Founder, The Computer Store, MacTutor Contributing Editor

IN THE BEGINNING...

[ Dick Heiser started the personal computer revolution when he opened the world's first computer store in Santa Monica, CA. in 1975. In this column he traces those early days that laid the foundation for the Apple, Macintosh and all the other electronic wonders we enjoy today. A participant of the Great Peace March of 1985, Dick is filing his reports "on the walk" so to speak and is currently somewhere between Barstow and Las Vegas, walking to Washington D.C. for peace. We wish him well as he admirably represents the personal computing fraternity. -Ed.]

My first personal computer

Back in the bad old days, Herbert Grosch announced his Law: big computers are more cost-efficient than little ones. That was bad news for users; big computers mean arranging for authorized account numbers, waiting until unlikely hours of the night, and the annoyances of bureaucracies and rules. The best way to become a radical is to start by defending the establishment: I made elaborate arguments in favor of Grosch's Law at Pertec. In 1973, I flipped over, when I saw the microprocessors from Intel, and started dreaming of personal computers.

Computer Automation introduced the "Naked Mini", claiming that "what this country needs is a good $995 computer." By the time I had mine outfitted with a Teletype, CRT, two floppy disks, and 8K words of core memory, the "extras" had increased the cost to $14,000. Another time, I'll tell you more about do-it-yourself systems integration. For now, just say it was an exciting 18 months, filled with surprises and learning.

The MITS Altair

So, I was astonished to see the MITS Altair computer on the cover of the January '75 Popular Electronics magazine. According to the Altair system catalog, you could build an Altair system similar to my $14,000 computer, for only $4,000. I felt the same, years later, when my $995 Mac upgrade depreciated so fast. You'll notice, "once a plunger, always a plunger."

The grand plans for the "Altair business system" were premature, however. The catalog specified Pertex (sic) disk drives. If they can't spell the name right, they haven't done the work yet! It was a long time before that whole system came together.

The Altair was a blockbuster for both price and technology. For $439 you got a kit for the CPU and chassis. That was the right price: at that time, its Intel 8080 chip alone was selling for over $300! Then, for an extra few hundred bucks each, you could build 4K memory boards, serial interface cards, even an audio cassette recorder interface. The Altair looked just like a minicomputer: rows of switches and lights on the front panel. It worked like one, too: it used a 100-pin open bus design that became known as "S-100".

In the Wake of the MitsMobile

The first time I saw the MitsMobile, it was parked on the concrete at the Anaheim Convention Center. The event was the National Computer Conference, and the folks at MITS were too late to get a real booth. No booth number, no carpet, but they had a spellbinding act anyway: a cheap computer running BASIC. Every few minutes, somebody touched the power switch and crashed the system; then the technical support people had to toggle-in the bootstrap program, dash inside the RV to the teletype, and re-load the paper tape.

A few days after the NCC, my wife Lois and I went to see the MitsMobile again at a motel in the San Fernando valley. We arrived early, just before the last seats were taken. Then the aisles were taken, then the hallway out the door. The pitch-man began to explain the history of MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems was a model rocket telemetry company that almost went broke selling calculator kits). Before he could finish his first sentence, someone interrupted to ask when the "free binary listing" would be available. A steady stream of technical questions followed. Lois was impressed -- these people were planning to toggle-in 2,000-byte programs with the binary switches on the front panel! We knew we were among some serious hackers. Finally, after a few hours of technical questions, the evening adjourned, without ever finishing the history of MITS or anything else from the planned presentation.

came the SCCS

At the MitsMobile meeting, Don Tarbell circulated a note tablet. We inscribed our addresses, and were invited to his house on Fathers' Day for the first meeting of the Southern California Computer Society. 125 people showed-up for that first meeting; for awhile, the SCCS became the fastest-growing organization ever; by extrapolation, in 1980 the entire population of the earth would join-up. More than half of the SCCS'ers at that first meeting had ordered Altairs by prepaid mail order; few had received them yet.

and my computer store

I started my store in July. People would prefer to deal with me face-to-face, than to do business by mail. Waiting on long-distance for technical help was as frustrating then as now. With a simple flyer, a two-line classified ad, and a small storefront on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles, I was in business faster than I expected. My slogan "The Computer Store" soon became the name of my business.

If you came into my store in July 1975, you'd have to call me out from the back room. I'd have been soldering on my first Altair. The "computer" in the front room would turn out to be just a cabinet -- a gutless wonder. By August, I got the computer working, with 8K BASIC running on a teletypewriter.

Besides kits, you could buy books of BASIC game programs. Dave Ahl wrote 101 BASIC Games while he was still at DEC; it was one of their most unusual and best-selling books. Another good book was What to Do After You Hit Return , a dynamic collection of games from Bob Albrecht. Bob is a pioneer in teaching people the "hands-on imperative", and I learned an enormous amount from his Peoples Computer Company newspaper.

Byte magazine was also for sale in my store then. Issue number one, produced by Carl Helmers and Wayne Green, sold astonishingly well. It had an electronics surplus feeling to it. I remember ordering some surplus Sanders $10,000 graphics terminals for about $100 each. The broker called back to explain that they were being sold as scrap, for parts only. Fixing them up into working terminals wouldn't be fair. Sanders didn't want to find lots of illegitimate babies out there with the Sanders name on them.

Summary

Was the Altair the first personal computer? No, the Mark-8 pre-dated it. The Altair was lots better because it used the superior Intel 8080 chip instead of the Intel 8008, and had an expandable bus system with interface options. What made the Altair the start of an industry, though, was BASIC. Bill Gates and Paul Allen had provided a magic ingredient: software.

Was Herb Grosch right about big computers being more efficient than little ones? Nowadays, small computers cost less per byte and less per MIPS. More importantly, we've learned how to use extravagant amounts of computer power. The Mac uses tons of power to deliver its graphic object interface. It's definitely worth it. Now that micro chips deliver power so cheaply, we can have "effectiveness" instead of "efficiency".

Next Month Dick files another report on the history of an industry he helped to create!

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Logic Pro X 10.1.1 - Music creation and...
Apple Logic Pro X is the most advanced version of Logic ever. Sophisticated new tools for professional songwriting, editing, and mixing are built around a modern interface that's designed to get... Read more
VLC Media Player 2.2.0 - Popular multime...
VLC Media Player is a highly portable multimedia player for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, MP3, OGG, ...) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols. It... Read more
Sound Studio 4.7.8 - Robust audio record...
Sound Studio lets you easily record and professionally edit audio on your Mac. Easily rip vinyls and digitize cassette tapes, or record lectures and voice memos. Prepare for live shows with live... Read more
LibreOffice 4.4.1.2 - Free, open-source...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
Freeway Pro 7.0.3 - Drag-and-drop Web de...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With its user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Cloud 3.3.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
Cyberduck 4.6.5 - FTP and SFTP browser....
Cyberduck is a robust FTP/FTP-TLS/SFTP browser for the Mac whose lack of visual clutter and cleverly intuitive features make it easy to use. Support for external editors and system technologies such... Read more
Firefox 36.0 - Fast, safe Web browser. (...
Firefox for Mac offers a fast, safe Web browsing experience. Browse quickly, securely, and effortlessly. With its industry-leading features, Firefox is the choice of Web development professionals and... Read more
Thunderbird 31.5.0 - Email client from M...
As of July 2012, Thunderbird has transitioned to a new governance model, with new features being developed by the broader free software and open source community, and security fixes and improvements... Read more
VOX 2.4 - Music player that supports man...
VoxIt just sounds better! The beauty is in its simplicity, yet behind the minimal exterior lies a powerful music player with a ton of features & support for all audio formats you should ever need... Read more

Get The Whole Story – Lone Wolf Complete...
Get The Whole Story – Lone Wolf Complete is Now Available and On Sale Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Who Wore it Best? The Counting Dead vs....
Like it or not, the “clicker” genre, popularized by cute distractions like Candy Box and Cookie Clicker, seems like it’s here to stay. So Who Wore it Best? takes a look at two recent examples: The Counting Dead and AdVenture Capitalist. | Read more »
Card Crawl, the Mini Deck Building Game,...
Card Crawl, the Mini Deck Building Game, is Coming Soon Posted by Jessica Fisher on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Tinytouchtales and Mexer have announced their new game, | Read more »
Witness an all new puzzle mechanic in Bl...
Well, BlastBall MAX is not one of those games and is bucking trends such as timers, elements of randomness, and tacked-on mechanics in favor of pure puzzle gameplay. When you first boot up the game you’ll see a grid made up of squares that are each... | Read more »
This Princess Has a Dragon and She isn’t...
This Princess Has a Dragon and She isn’t Afraid to Useit. | Read more »
Mecha Showdown Review
Mecha Showdown Review By Lee Hamlet on February 27th, 2015 Our Rating: :: IN A SPINUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Mecha Showdown replaces traditional buttons with a slot machine mechanic in this robot fighting game,... | Read more »
Reliance Games and Dreamworks Unveil Rea...
Reliance Games and Dreamworks Unveil Real Steel Champions Posted by Ellis Spice on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Reliance Games and Dreamworks have announced that a third game in | Read more »
Sum Idea Review
Sum Idea Review By Jennifer Allen on February 27th, 2015 Our Rating: :: TAXING NUMBERSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Sum Idea is a fairly charming but taxing puzzle game.   | Read more »
A New Badland Update Brings Daydream Lev...
A New Badland Update Brings Daydream Levels to Co-Op Posted by Ellis Spice on February 27th, 2015 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Slashing Demons Review
Slashing Demons Review By Lee Hamlet on February 27th, 2015 Our Rating: :: IT'S A LONG WAY TO THE TOPUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Slashing Demons lacks the depth or scope to take it beyond the point of being just... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple CEO Tim Cook to Deliver 2015 George Was...
Apple CEO Tim Cook will deliver the George Washington University’s Commencement address to GWU grads on May 17, at which time he will also be awarded an honorary doctorate of public service from the... Read more
Apple restocks refurbished Mac minis for up t...
The Apple Store has restocked Apple Certified Refurbished 2014 Mac minis, with models available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz... Read more
Save up to $50 on iPad Air 2s, NY tax only, f...
 B&H Photo has iPad Air 2s on sale for $50 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $469.99 $30 off - 64GB iPad Air 2 WiFi: $549 $50 off - 128GB iPad Air 2... Read more
16GB iPad Air 2 on sale for $447, save $52
Walmart has the 16GB iPad Air 2 WiFi on sale for $446.99 on their online store for a limited time. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders only,... Read more
iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP
B&H Photo has 21″ and 27″ iMacs on sale for up to $205 off MSRP including free shipping plus NY sales tax only: - 21″ 1.4GHz iMac: $1029 $70 off - 21″ 2.7GHz iMac: $1199 $100 off - 21″ 2.9GHz... Read more
Apple Takes 89 Percent Share of Global Smartp...
According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, global smartphone operating profit reached US$21 billion in Q4 2014. The Android operating system captured a record-low 11 percent global... Read more
New Travel Health App “My Travel Health” iOS...
Rochester, Minnesota based Travel Health and Wellness LLC has announced that its new iOS app help safeguard the user’s health when traveling abroad — “My Travel Health” is now available on the Apple... Read more
Sale! MacBook Airs for up to $115 off MSRP
B&H Photo has MacBook Airs on sale for up to $100 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 11″ 128GB MacBook Air: $799 100 off MSRP - 11″ 256GB MacBook Air: $999 $100... Read more
15-inch 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pro (refurbishe...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished previous-generation 15″ 2.0GHz Retina MacBook Pros available for $1489 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is... Read more
Wither The iPad mini? End Of The Road Imminen...
AppleDailyReport’s Dennis Sellers predicts that the iPad mini is going to be left to wither on the vine, as it were, and then just allowed to fade away — a casualty of the IPhone 6 Plus and other... Read more

Jobs Board

Sr. Technical Services Consultant, *Apple*...
**Job Summary** Apple Professional Services (APS) has an opening for a senior technical position that contributes to Apple 's efforts for strategic and transactional Read more
Event Director, *Apple* Retail Marketing -...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global engagement strategy and team. Delivering an overarching brand Read more
*Apple* Pay - Site Reliability Engineer - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Retail Sales...
**Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Consultant (ASC) you are the link between our customers and our products. Your role is to drive the Apple business in a retail Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.