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'Father of the PC', Early Mentor of Bill Gates, Dies

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 39 comments

Dr. Ed Roberts, creator of the Altair 8800, has passed away.

Though his name is not a well known one, Ed Roberts' contribution to the computing industry has had an impact on us all. Credited with the first personal computer to the market, Roberts' Altair 8800 was the inspiration for Bill Gates and Microsoft. The machine was launched by Roberts' company MITS in 1975 and featured on the cover of Popular Electronics. Paul Allen and Bill Gates contacted Roberts and offered to write software for the computer, which resulted in both of them going to work with MITS under Roberts.

Gates and Allen founded Microsoft shortly after and in 1977 their mentor, then 36, moved to Georgia and bought a farm. In 1982 he attended medical school and in '86, he graduated first in his class; in 1988 he established a small practice in of Cochran, Georgia.

Roberts contracted pneumonia and died yesterday aged 68. Gates and Allen released a joint statement, praising the "father of the PC."

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and early mentor, Ed Roberts, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

"Ed was truly a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, and didn’t always get the recognition he deserved. 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. 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 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 – where so many exciting things happened that none of us could have imagined back then.

"More than anything, what we will always remember about Ed was how deeply compassionate he was – and that was never more true than when he decided to spend the second half of his life going to medical school and working as a country doctor making house calls. He will be missed by many and we were lucky to have known him."

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  • 25 Hide
    victomofreality , April 2, 2010 12:28 PM
    RIP Dr. Ed Roberts I shudder to think of what the world would have been like without you :'( 
  • 23 Hide
    jonpaul37 , April 2, 2010 12:31 PM
    RIP brotha! you will go down like Eddison, Benz, & many others in history...
  • 19 Hide
    shadow187 , April 2, 2010 12:44 PM
    Having just completed a 9th-grade term paper on Bill Gates, I know very well the importance of the Altair 8800 processor. Mr. Ed Roberts was indeed very key in helping Gates succeed.
Other Comments
  • 25 Hide
    victomofreality , April 2, 2010 12:28 PM
    RIP Dr. Ed Roberts I shudder to think of what the world would have been like without you :'( 
  • 23 Hide
    jonpaul37 , April 2, 2010 12:31 PM
    RIP brotha! you will go down like Eddison, Benz, & many others in history...
  • 19 Hide
    shadow187 , April 2, 2010 12:44 PM
    Having just completed a 9th-grade term paper on Bill Gates, I know very well the importance of the Altair 8800 processor. Mr. Ed Roberts was indeed very key in helping Gates succeed.
  • 16 Hide
    r0x0r , April 2, 2010 1:15 PM
    R.I.P. Mr Roberts, and our thanks for your contributions. Without you this world would have been very different.

    Also I apologize for writing what I am about to write, but I feel that it needs to be written (and I am sure that TH regulars will understand).

    ossie, if you try to spin this news into something anti-Microsoft, then a perma-ban from TH would be the least of your problems. I pray that you have the sense and decency to allow Bill Gates to mourn for his mentor.
  • 1 Hide
    demonhorde665 , April 2, 2010 1:17 PM
    jonpaul37RIP brotha! you will go down like Eddison, Benz, & many others in history...

    dont even mention thomas eddision , every bit of his work was based of Tesla's ideas but tesla's ideas were generlaly more practical (eddison suportred dc current tesla suported what we use {AC}) i get sick of hearing what edison did when every thing he did was taken from tesla
  • 9 Hide
    JMcEntegart , April 2, 2010 1:23 PM
    r0x0rI apologize for writing what I am about to write, but I feel that it needs to be written (and I am sure that TH regulars will understand).ossie, if you try to spin this news into something anti-Microsoft, then a perma-ban from TH would be the least of your problems. I pray that you have the sense and decency to allow Bill Gates to mourn for his mentor.


    Amen.
  • 2 Hide
    jonpaul37 , April 2, 2010 1:28 PM
    demonhorde665dont even mention thomas eddision , every bit of his work was based of Tesla's ideas but tesla's ideas were generlaly more practical (eddison suportred dc current tesla suported what we use {AC}) i get sick of hearing what edison did when every thing he did was taken from tesla


    Innovation my friend, the Italians are known for great cuisine, if the Italians did not make better the noodle, i may not be as good of a cook as i am today...

    If Gates innovated from Roberts, i see no mention of anyone bagging him for that, he simply saw an opportunity and tackled it, thus, making the world of computing how it is now...

    Without that we would still be cavemen dragging our women through the jungle by their hair...
  • -7 Hide
    Regulas , April 2, 2010 1:35 PM
    demonhorde665dont even mention thomas eddision , every bit of his work was based of Tesla's ideas but tesla's ideas were generlaly more practical (eddison suportred dc current tesla suported what we use {AC}) i get sick of hearing what edison did when every thing he did was taken from tesla

    I agree with you to a point and you could say the same for Bill Gates, nothing but a typical business bully who steals ideas and then tries to monopolise on it.
  • 2 Hide
    treefrog07 , April 2, 2010 1:43 PM
    A Giant of the personal computing idustry. My sympathy to his family and friends.

    p.s. I think the founder of GE spelled his name Edison.
  • 2 Hide
    redux fountain , April 2, 2010 1:47 PM


    RIP Dr. Robert(s)
  • 6 Hide
    ashburner , April 2, 2010 2:20 PM
    RIP Ed.

    I also wrote a paper on Bill Gates back in 11th grade (15 years ago)- shortly after his book, "The Road Ahead" was released. I really hope Dr. Roberts is remembered as he deserves to be. A true pioneer!
  • 4 Hide
    Yoder54 , April 2, 2010 2:33 PM
    r0x0rossie, if you try to spin this news into something anti-Microsoft, then a perma-ban from TH would be the least of your problems. I pray that you have the sense and decency to allow Bill Gates to mourn for his mentor.


    I agree that we should let the dead lie in peace. Hell, I won't even bad mouth Nixon anymore. On a similar note, I wonder if the same respect will be applied to Jobs when he passes?
  • 3 Hide
    Yoder54 , April 2, 2010 2:35 PM
    demonhorde665dont even mention thomas eddision , every bit of his work was based of Tesla's ideas but tesla's ideas were generlaly more practical


    Picasso said that "good artists borrow, and great artists steal." The same can probably be applied to innovation.
  • 5 Hide
    HalJordan , April 2, 2010 2:49 PM
    What I find most inspiring is that, at the age of 36, he decides to go to medical school. Never stop learning.
  • 4 Hide
    JMcEntegart , April 2, 2010 2:54 PM
    HalJordanWhat I find most inspiring is that, at the age of 36, he decides to go to medical school. Never stop learning.


    He was actually 41 when he started med school. Such an inspiration.
  • 2 Hide
    christop , April 2, 2010 2:56 PM
    A very smart man RIP.
  • 3 Hide
    jellico , April 2, 2010 3:15 PM
    Yoder54I agree that we should let the dead lie in peace. Hell, I won't even bad mouth Nixon anymore. On a similar note, I wonder if the same respect will be applied to Jobs when he passes?

    I can't stand Apple products and I think Steve Jobs is an arrogant prick. But he is also a visionary and one of the founding fathers of the modern computer landscape. His death will be no less tragic, and he will be afforded all of the respect and admiration that he deserves. Hopefully, that will not be for a very long time.
  • 3 Hide
    pale paladin , April 2, 2010 3:35 PM
    RIP. Dr. Roberts. Thanks for pioneering computers so that I now have a job fixing them. I mean that very sincerely. :) 
  • -4 Hide
    ben850 , April 2, 2010 4:05 PM
    father of PC? looks more like father of CP..
  • 5 Hide
    dstln , April 2, 2010 4:49 PM
    I never knew about him. Too bad, and good article.
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