What Is Altair BASIC?

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Altair BASIC is an interpreter for the BASIC programming language designed to run on the MITS Altair 8800 computer. It holds significant historical importance as the first product ever released by Microsoft, marking the beginning of the Microsoft BASIC product line. MITS distributed Altair BASIC under a contract with Microsoft. The MITS Altair 8800, introduced in 1975, was a groundbreaking computer that opened up a new world for technology enthusiasts. At the time, hobbyists interested in building their computers had to scrounge up parts from various electronic devices. The Altair 8800, however, provided a complete, powerful, and affordable solution. Recognizing the potential of software as an essential complement to hardware, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, the founders of Microsoft, approached Ed Roberts, the founder of MITS, with their idea of developing an interpreter for the Altair 8800. They believed every computer owner would need software to fully utilize their machines. To develop Altair BASIC, Gates and Allen worked with an Intel 8080 emulator on a DEC PDP-10 machine. The emulator was originally written by Paul Allen and was modified to align with the specifications of the Altair. They also enlisted the help of Monte Davidoff, who was responsible for writing the floating-point arithmetic routines for the interpreter. In March 1975, Gates and Allen successfully demonstrated the Altair BASIC to Ed Roberts. Impressed by their work, Roberts agreed to license and distribute the interpreter. The initial release of Altair BASIC occurred on July 1, 1975, and it quickly gained popularity among Altair 8800 owners. Following the success of Altair BASIC, Microsoft was officially formed on April 4, 1975. The release of this interpreter laid the foundation for Microsoft's future ventures in the software industry, establishing them as prominent players. Altair BASIC was well-suited for the early personal computers, as it had a small footprint and could run on systems with limited processing power and memory. Its availability made programming more accessible to a wider audience, contributing to the growth and democratization of computing. In summary, Altair BASIC was the first product released by Microsoft and played a crucial role in the history of personal computing. Developed for the MITS Altair 8800, it was an interpreter for the BASIC programming language that enabled users to write and run programs on their computers. This milestone led to the establishment of Microsoft as a software company and marked the beginning of its influential journey in the technology industry.


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