NATS 1775 Lecture 9: Lecture 9.docx
Theme: Users shaping new technology, it is about development of personal computers before
they enter the market.
Specific group of users: amateur or computer hobbyist, same as radio hobbyist. Highly skilled,
highly knowledgeable individuals who know more about computer than an average person.
Personal computers takes place in 1960s and early 70s. types and kinds of computers using. 2
types of major computers. Main frame computers: they were huge devices, these were types of
computers that would fit the entire office floor, large big scale systems. Mini computers: they
were huge as compared to today but smaller than main frame. Figure out how we go out from
main frame and mini computers to the advent of personal computers or home computers.
In mid 1970s a survey was done to understand the personality or like of this user. Well over
1500 computer hobbyist were surveyed in North America. Half of these hobbyists were
individuals who had gain most of their knowledge, understanding about computers, within their
place of work. The major places where you could see computers were big businesses. It was
limited. Most of these hobbyists spent most of their time with these computers at work. 44%
were willing to spend 10-20 hours a week on computers, 13% spent close to 30 hours a week.
Computer hobbyist were willing to spend anything on the development of these computers. 30+
percent of computers hobbyists were ready to invest thousands of dollars in the system, 10 to
20 % their annual income would be spent on these computers. Time and money spent.
Why were they so invested in computer? It did not do anything with computer or hardware itself
but in large part many of these hobbyist were investing because they believed what computer
could do globally. Many computer hobbyist saw computers as leading a way for social change,
believed greater accessibility to computers could help an end to social inequality in this world. It
could help end gender and racial discrimination. Computers were key to these kinds of social
movements. For these hobbyists computers were more than just machines, they were
instruments of social change. These computer hobbyist were also extremely anti authority. The
reason why they were anti authority, because they believed at the time that computer were
deliberately kept from the hands of everyday person. Business and government were pouring
computers for themselves and making it difficult for everyday person to get hands on the
technology. Only people with hands on computers would bring about social change.
Anti govt. and anti-authority sentiments were common at this time.
Technical improvements happening that will allow the possibility of small scale computing. The
only types of computers used were main frame and mini computers so what kind of
improvement will develop small scale or personal computing?
Changes that will take place with creation of things like semi-conductors as well as integrated
circuits. Semi-conductors are materials that conduct electricity and the most well-known semi-
conductor with computers is silicone. In addition we see the development of Integrated circuits
which are when you take electrical components and put them on a piece of semi conducting
material. In case of computers that will lead to development of silicone chip.
The first industry to incorporate circuit chips was the Calculator industry in late 60s and early
1970s. the small device that calculator was able to create during this time was personal
calculators. Personal calculators were popular devices, there was a market introduced for
integrated circuit technology. This was important for 2 reasons.
1. The integrated circuit industry realized that people will be willing to purchase products
using this new kind of technology. When you mass produce this kind of technology, it is
going to dry down crisis and make it easier to purchase these items
2. Work of well-known computer Intel. They were asked by calculator company Busicom to
create a set of specific integrated circuit chips for their company. Busicom wanted Intel
to create integrated circuits to work for personal calculators, but what Intel did was
instead of creating specific chips for calculators, they created a set of general purpose
chips. They created a series of general purpose chips that could not just be used in
calculators but in other devices as well. One of the chips created by Intel was a
microprocessor chip. This was instrumental to allow small scale computing.
- This series of chip created by Intel in 1971 was called their 4004 series. 4004 chip
eventually gave way to 8008 and then 8080 chip which was the one used in first Altair
In case of Intel they were advertising them as micro-programmable computers on a chip.
Intel negotiates Busicom to sell these chips to other industries, major advancements leading
to smaller computers.
By 1960s and 70s there was already an established computer industry around. Why are these
hobbyist going to play huge role in shaping small scale computers when in fact already
established industry in place?
Idea of home or personal computers was being floated around, the established computer
industry in those days did not think there would be a market for these devices. The established
computer industry back then did not think that the average everyday person would want a
personal or home computer of their own. Why did the industry had this view?
In those days the established computer industry was used to dealing with large scale computers
and believed that generation of future computers would continue to remain large scale. The
industry anticipated the idea of computers being shared by individuals in a kind of time sharing
capacity. They thought that if the individual wanted to use computer, what they would end up
doing was sharing a computer with other people for their basic needs or requirements.
Xerox: photocopier industry of what you think today, in the late 60s and early 1970s xerox was
at the forefront of small scale computing development. Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center
created Alto in 1972, a machine that utilized microprocessor technology. In 1972 they came up
with first prototype called computer. They called this computer the Alto and many of the features
of this home computer had features we still use today, memories, mouse, monitor. They reffered
this machine as “office of future”. Xerox did not do anything else after alto. At the time their
industry leaders, marketers, executive adopted a wait and see attitude. By the time they wait
and saw, the industry went on and they will miss the boat on leading in this new industry. If
computer industry were not interested in such systems, how will computer hobbyist get their
hands on the system.
It wasn’t easy for them to do so. Intel sold its chips to large scale coorporations so there was a
limit on who could purchase the technology. Computer hobbyist did not have access to these
integrated circuit chips. The other problem was that these integrated circuit chips were very
The company that will first introduce a personal computer to these computer hobbyists was a
company named MITS, Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems. MITS is going to offer
these hobbyists a device called the Altair. The very first personal computer ever produced. MITS
was a company led by an individual named Ed Roberts. He had spent time in calculator industry
before coming to computer industry. One thing Roberts did was to negotiate a deal with Intel
which saw Intel’s most advanced chips the 8800 series which became available for his personal
computers. What he was able to do was to negotiate with intel to reduce the price of chips so
that each cost $75. By doing this he is going to offer computer hobbyist their personal
computers for $400. Altair system was advertised to these hobbyists in Jan 1975. A box would
come to their house and the computer hobbyist would be able to construct and make their
personal computers at the time. This MITS device was extraordinarily popular with these
hobbyists. MITS had problems fulfilling the orders because many hobbyists wanted this system.
thousands of order for this brand new Altair.
The personal computers given to these hobbyist were not computers that we use today, they
were black or silver box with buttons on them. There was no monitor, keyboard, memory, the
hobbyists were given this device to program it so that a flash bulb went on and on. So why they
loved this kind of system? the answer lies in technology itself. The Altair was developed using
Buss architecture. Buss refers to an open-ended architecture. It is a private syetem which
allows the user to fix or to add on any kind of device or accessory to the system. Buss
architecture meant the system could be manipulated at any capacity by the user. Altair produced
using Buss architecture, these computer hobbyists saw it as a platform to greatly expand or
improve the technology. They added memory, keyboard, monitor and all device that could fit
into. $400 device would now cost them thousands of dollars by the time they were done with the
whole thing. They were willing to invest time and money to do so. Popularity of Altair had to do
with Buss architecture. Another reason has everything to do by the way it was marketed.
Personal computers were cleverly marketed by MITS, hobbyist were anti authority, MITS is
giving them computers to rival commercial models, to rival what big businesses and govt.
already have. In other words they were giving them serious computers or real computers. Many
hobbyists believed that it was more just a toy, it was a real computer. MITS also offered these
computer hobbyist prizes in contest. These contest offered and prizes were given to the
hobbyists of the best add on to the device. Who ever won were given certificates to purchase
more MITS products. By making the computer hobbyist to work on the Altair, by getting them to
improve upon the system, what MITS did was to make these highly skilled and knowledgeable
their own research and development division. They didn’t need to do themselves because
hobbyist were doing most of their work. Most of them were doing for free.
How the hobbyists reshaped the technology?