Mixsonian Larry


Byte Magazine

In December my subscription to Byte Magazine started and I received my first issue which had an article titled “The Software Vacuum” about the lack of software for the microcomputer hobbyist. This was before “Home Computers” that later became Personal Computers.  The article explained:

There is a software vacuum. That fact has become increasingly clear in the past few months.

Take a look at the situation. At the time of this is written there’s only one company (MITS) offering a proprietary software product (BASIC) aimed directly a the aimed directly at the microcomputer hobbyist.

Paper TapeComputer Paper Tape

If ordered with a new  system, Altair Extended Basic was $150 while the Altair software “Package One”, consisting of an assembler, text editor and system monitor was $30.  You had your choice of delivery method, audio cassette tape or paper tape.  That’s right, paper tape, a strip of paper about an inch wide with holes punched in it to represent characters and numbers. 

Motorolla 6800My Motorola 6800 book that I studied quite quite thoroughly

One of the feature stories in the issue was how to build a microcomputer system based on the Motorola 6800 microprocessor which was sold by MITS, the maker of the Altair computer, MITS had had an eight page ad which included their new “Altair 680” microcomputer kit for $293, $150 cheaper than the Altair 8800 that used the Intel 8080 processor.    I liked the Motorola 6800 microprocessor, based on the Dec PDP-11 architecture, it was a more elegant design than the Intel 8080 microprocessor but never became popular because it was much slower than the Intel 8080.

Also in in the December issue MITS announced an “Inexpensive” mass storage unit, an 8 inch floppy disk drive unit for $1,480, three times the cost of the computer itself.  Eight inch floppy disks were $15 each.  They also offered a Disk Operating System (DOS) for $150 if you bought a new computer and disk unit at the same time, total price for all three, close to $3000 as a kit, $4000 assembled.


Of course, a computer is pretty much useless without some sort of computer terminal connected to it  to enter information and get printouts.  The IBM Selectric computer terminals connected to the mainframe cost thousands of dollars, much to expensive for the typical hobbyist.  A common solution was the Teletype machine commonly used for sending and receiving telegrams.  A used Teletype machine could be bought from surplus for a few hundred dollars.    With the popularity of the Altair computer, severalTV Terminal companies came up with terminal kits including MITS who came out with the Altair Comter home terminal that came with a keyboard, a 32 character display and even an audio cassette for storage ($780).  Other companies soon came out with terminal kits for under $200 that had keyboards and used TV’s for a monitor which would display sixteen lines of 64 characters

Updated: 02-08-2023