Ed Roberts, one of the first pioneers of the personal computer, founder of MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems), and developer of the Altair computer, died Thursday at his home in Georgia, as reported by The Huffington Post.
Roberts was a controversial figure in the early days of the personal computer industry, and was credited with innovating the entire idea of a "personal" computer with his work on the Altair (released in 1975), the first computer that could be built and customized affordably by private hobbyists. It was this computer that Bill gates and Paul Allen popularized and distributed their BASIC programming language with, and it eventually inspired them to break off and form Microsoft.
MITS was ultimately a failure, due to an underdeveloped production and distribution system, and upset customers purchasing error-laden hardware produced by primitive quality control systems. He sold the company to Pertec, a PC hardware manufacturer, and enrolled in medical school, never to enter th PC industry again. (Source: Fire in the Valley, the making of the personal computer. Second Edition. Paul Freiberger & Michael Swaine)
In a joint statement on the Gates Notes website, Bill Gates and Paul Allen had this to say about Roberts:
"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," Gates and Allen said. "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."