PC pioneer, H Edward Roberts, passes away

H Edward Roberts is the computer world's forgotten hero. The inventor of the world's first microcomputer, the progenitor of today's personal computers, walked away from the computer industry more than three decades ago to pursue a childhood dream of becoming a doctor, which he successfully achieved at the age of 45.

This is the famous issue of Popular Electronics with the feature story "Altair 8800 Minicomputer, Part 1" by H Edward Roberts and William Yates.

He was not forgotten by Microsoft's Bill Gates though, who flew down to Macon, Georgia to be by his hospital bedside last week. Roberts company, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), was Microsoft's first customer.

Dr Roberts died on 1April at the Medical Center of Middle Georgia, his son Martin said. He was 68.

Dr Roberts made an early and lasting contribution to modern computing when he created the MITS Altair, the first inexpensive general-purpose microcomputer, a device that could be programmed to do all manner of tasks. For that achievement, industry historians assert, Dr. Roberts deserves to be credited as the inventor of the personal computer.

It was writing software for the MITS Altair that provided Gates, a student at Harvard at the time, and his Microsoft partner, Paul G Allen, their first break. They wrote a version of the Basic programming language that could run on the machine.

Microsoft Basic was the beginning of what would become the world's largest software company.