On this day in 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen founded Micro-Soft
Paul Allen saw the Altair 8800 on the front cover of Popular Electronics with the headline ‘World’s first microcomputer kit to rival commercial models’ they already had all the required knowledge to seek out MITS and make their bold approach to become the first supplier of a BASIC language for it.
The really remarkable fact was that they delivered this successful software language without ever having seen an Altair ‘in the flesh’.
Gates wrote the code and Allen prepared the emulation on a PDP-10; eight weeks later Allen was able to demonstrate it to MITS. He delivered the software output from punched paper tape in March 1975. He did not even have enough money to pay for his hotel room and Ed Roberts of MITS had to sub him.
The first demonstration crashed but a second tape ran successfully. The very first operation was not brain surgery; they simply typed in ‘10 print 2+2’ then ‘Run’ and got back the answer ‘4’. Compelling, heh?
They signed a licence deal with MITS, for shipping Altair BASIC in 4k or 8k versions. They received $3,000 up front, plus $30 per sold copy of the 4k version and $35 per 8k version. It was intended that MITS would eventually own the rights in the software once $180k of royalty payments had been paid.
This Altair or MITS BASIC was the very first computer language made widely available on a personal computer. Perhaps because of the royalty costs it was far from inexpensive at $150 a pop, but Roberts suggested this was set high to assist with the sales of add-ons. The cost would be dropped to $75 if you bought a memory expansion board; if you purchased this together with an input/output board then it dropped to just $60.
It was however Monte Davidoff, while a student at Harvard who produced the floating-point arithmetic for the Altair BASIC.
Paul Allen moved from a role at Honeywell and took the role as a VP and director of software development based at MITS in Albuquerque; Bill Gates was appointed a ‘software specialist’.
Gates later dropped out of Harvard and with Allen founded Micro-Soft, initially based in Albuquerque to be convenient to the Altair headquarters.
Initially the company name did have that hyphen, with the equity divided as to 60% Gates and 40% Allen.