Putting It Together

Every good idea was half-executed at MITS.

–Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft

Compared with mainframes and minicomputers, the Altair was seriously deficient. It lacked any means of permanent storage. Users could put information into the machine and manipulate it, but once they shut off the power, the information disappeared. Even temporary storage was extremely limited. Although the Altair had a memory board, its 256 bytes of memory wouldn’t have allowed enough space to hold this paragraph.

As an I/O system, the front-panel setup was awkward to use and required a tedious series of steps. To enter information, users had to flip tiny switches on and off; one flip of a switch equaled one bit of information. To read output, ...

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