MITS founder and Altair inventor Ed Roberts dies aged 68

After creating the computer that inspired Gates and Allen to create Microsoft, Roberts retrained as a doctor

Henry Edward Roberts, designer of the Altair 8800 personal computer that inspired Bill Gates and Paul Allen to enter the software business, has died aged 68.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and early mentor, Ed Roberts," Microsoft co-founders Gates and Allen said in a statement issued late Thursday.

"Ed was truly a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, and didn't always get the recognition he deserved," they continued.

Roberts was a founder of Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS), a retailer of electronics kits for hobbyists. There he designed the Altair 8800, arguably the first personal computer. When Popular Electronics magazine featured the Altair on its cover in January 1975, Gates and Allen offered to develop a version of the programming language Basic for the new computer, setting up Microsoft (then known as Micro-Soft) to do so.

"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, the two Microsoft founders wrote.

"The day our first untested software worked on his Altair was 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."

"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," Gates and Allen said.

That caring attitude was not just extended to his employees: A few years after the launch of the Altair, Roberts sold MITS to move to Georgia, where he went on to study medicine and become a country doctor.

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Peter Sayer

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