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."