Wednesday, September 15, 2010

They Passed This Way: Microsoft

In January of 1975, Paul Allen contacted Ed Roberts, president of Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) a company based in Albuquerque.  He was  trying to gauge Robert's interest in a programming code for MITS's  Altair 8800 microcomputer. Despite the fact that Allen had not yet written the code,  Roberts was sold on Paul's pitch and a demonstration was scheduled at MITS's Albuquerque office. Allen and Bill Gates along with Monte Davidoff then wrote the programming code for Basic Interpreter (a computer programming language) and Allen flew to Albuquerque to meet with Ed Roberts.  The program was loaded into an Altair computer at MITS and to the relief and joy of Paul Allen it worked.   Allen was hired to work at MITS,  he brought Gates (who was a student at Harvard) with him to Albuquerque in November of 1975.  They authorized MITS to sell their basic as part of the Altair kit and retained the rights to market it themselves.  While employed at MITS they also devoted time to establishing their own company, which they initially called Micro-Soft.  The fledgling partners opened an office in Albuquerque at 1180 Alvarado SE #114.  A year later  the name "Microsoft" was registered with the Office of the Secretary of State of New Mexico.  Soon after that Allen and Gates broke their ties with MITS.  Under the Microsoft banner they continued to develop programming language software for various systems.
Once Microsoft became successful and started to grow, it became harder to find people willing to move to Albuquerque. "Bill and I used to talk about the fact that a lot of people didn't even know what state Albuquerque was in" Allen said.  Bill Gates commented "Nobody was based in Albuquerque, so there were no real ties there." Although there was some initial resistance to the move, Microsoft relocated to Bellevue, Washington in 1979.  The now famous company portrait was taken at Royal Frontier Studios  "As a culmination of Microsoft's productive stay in Albuquerque." Thanks to the ubiquitous mugshot of Bill Gates, his encounters with Albuquerque's finest are well known.  A spokesmen for Microsoft once commented: "It is well known that when Bill was young he didn't have a very good driving record." Bill Gates actually had several run-ins with law enforcement in Albuquerque.  In 1975 he was arrested on charges of speeding and driving without a license.  On December 13th 1977 he was arrested after speeding in his Porsche, running a stop sign and driving without a license. (This is the arrest that led to the infamous mug shot). Gates was also involved in an accident (he was not at fault)  in 1977, when his Porsche was hit by a vehicle that ran a stop sign.  Paul Allen supposedly was traveling in the car with Gates at the time of that accident.  Most records and details concerning the  charges against Gates, have conveniently disappeared from APD files.
The man who gave Paul Allen and Bill Gates their start passed away this year.  Dr. Henry Ed Roberts founded Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) in 1970.
His company released the Altair 8800 in 1974, it was featured on the cover of Popular Electronics (thus drawing Paul Allen's attention)  and would become the world's first truly popular personal computer.   It also became the platform that Allen and Gate's used to launch Microsoft.  Paul Allen and Bill Gates released this statement following Dr. Roberts death:  “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."