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What was the first computer with a basic language?

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Looking at an October 1975 BYTE magazine I saw only two machines being advertised: The Altair and the Sphere. The Sphere was supposed to have BASIC, a keyboard, and a display. There is a Wikipedia article on it: Spere 1. It looks like about 1,300 were built with half of them being sold as complete systems (not in KIT form).. There was also an article in the Oct 1975 BYTE and a 2006 followup about the Sphere: http://www.swtpc.com/mholley/BYTE/Oct1975/are_they_real.htm

 

The guy who built it is still in business: http://www.a-systems.net/company.htm

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Looking at an October 1975 BYTE magazine I saw only two machines being advertised: The Altair and the Sphere. The Sphere was supposed to have BASIC, a keyboard, and a display. There is a Wikipedia article on it: Spere 1. It looks like about 1,300 were built with half of them being sold as complete systems (not in KIT form).. There was also an article in the Oct 1975 BYTE and a 2006 followup about the Sphere: http://www.swtpc.com/mholley/BYTE/Oct1975/are_they_real.htm

 

The guy who built it is still in business: http://www.a-systems.net/company.htm

 

I just found out some info about Gordon French's Chicken Hawk computer from 1975, but it doesn't say if it was commercially available, or if it run BASIC.

 

Really cool about the control-alt-delete keyboard combination, really good info.

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...The Sphere was supposed to have BASIC, a keyboard, and a display. There is a Wikipedia article on it: Spere 1. It looks like about 1,300 were built with half of them being sold as complete systems (not in KIT form).. There was also an article in the Oct 1975 BYTE and a 2006 followup about the Sphere: http://www.swtpc.com/mholley/BYTE/Oct1975/are_they_real.htm

 

The guy who built it is still in business: http://www.a-systems.net/company.htm

 

Interesting find..

I thought this part from the 2006 update particularly interesting:

In October 1976, Wayne wrote this, "When I visited Sphere back in August 1975 they were expected to ship hardware in a few weeks and were certain they would have BASIC available for it in the same time slot. I think the hardware finally got out in about 4 months (complete systems, I mean) and to my knowledge they have not yet shipped BASIC in any good usable form."

 

So they probably didn't ship in 1975 (maybe very late), but that would mean it was likely they shipped in 1976...

The "any good usable form" part makes it interesting. Would that count for the purpose of this discussion?

If it did ship with it's BASIC in 1976, it was in time; but how usable was it?

Or when was it, if ever, shipped with a usable BASIC?

 

Also, the wiki article mentions this:

Michael was aware that constant powering off and on to clear RAM was hard on the circuits, so he devised a way to clear RAM without powering down. Michael needed three keys on his keyboard that were unlikely to be pressed by accident. He chose Alternate, Control, and Delete.

 

Of course, it's wikipedia.. :-) But it looks like it merits some more looking...

 

desiv

I'll probably get this wrong, but if it works, here's the Sphere 1:

sphere.jpg

Edited by desiv

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Also, this page: http://online.sfsu.edu/~hl/c.photo.html

 

...has this information and a picture (no monitor, so I'm guessing it's a KIT version in a case or ???):

21. Sphere-1 microcomputer 1975 Its integrated packaging options were advanced for the inexpensive personal computer market. CPU: 6800, 4k RAM expandable to 16k on the motherboard, 1k EPROM, built-in video board, cassette I/O. (kit: $860; assembled: $1400)

 

And lots of other information. Yes, there's a SOL in there too..

 

desiv

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When you start listing some of the really obscure computers I have to go back to the Altair 8800.

The first prototype for Popular Electronics was actually built in 1974 but got lost in shipping.

The final article hit newsstands at the end of 1974 in the January '75 issue.

BASIC was announced in July 1975.

The machine was available assembled.

 

The IMSAI 8080 was released in late 1975 as a clone of the Altair. The company had already been selling boards for the Altair just like the makers of the SOL.

 

While these machines originally needed a separate terminal, you could plug a terminal board into them so they were a stand alone machine. That's where the SOL had gotten it's start.

Sure they were bulky but at least they weren't as obscure as the Sphere.

 

And you also need to look at the SWTPC computers based on the 6800. They were selling in 1975 and came with a boot ROM (monitor), something the 8080 machines originally didn't have (you entered the code to load things from tape on the front switches). That's before the SOL and it's personality module (which is just a boot ROM). The SWTPC was introduced in Jan '75 as a terminal kit and was a full blown machine by the end of the year.

They also introduced a terminal board at some point so a separate terminal wasn't needed. BASIC was also available for these machines.

 

It looks like Popular Electronics and Radio Electronics were instrumental in the launch of all these systems as well as the SOL and it all started in 1974 as a project war with Radio Electronics with published a "TV Typewriter" project in Sept 1973. SWTPC introduce the TV Typewriter II in Radio Electronics as mentioned above while Popular Electronics responded with the Altair.

 

So, we can all thank a capitalist war between two geek project magazines for really getting the personal computer revolution off the ground.

 

<edit> BTW, I wouldn't be too surprised if the TV Typewriter project book was on WOZ's shelf when he designed the Apple I.

Edited by JamesD

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...the original question was not about the first computer but the first "traditional" computer as we think of it such as the Apple II and TRS-80 with a keyboard, BASIC, and television output. If we go to first "home" computer then Intel had made a computer very similar to the Altair two years prior. I liked the Sphere for the prize because they put it all together in one package including BASIC on an eprom so that the computer would boot right into BASIC with no waiting and no terminal required. They just ended up not doing it very well :)

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...the original question was not about the first computer but the first "traditional" computer as we think of it such as the Apple II and TRS-80 with a keyboard, BASIC, and television output. If we go to first "home" computer then Intel had made a computer very similar to the Altair two years prior. I liked the Sphere for the prize because they put it all together in one package including BASIC on an eprom so that the computer would boot right into BASIC with no waiting and no terminal required. They just ended up not doing it very well :)

No, the original question was:

I was wondering what the first computer with a basic programming language was. When I say "computer," I mean a home computer that you could buy completely assembled, bring it home, plug it in, and start programming in a basic language. Basic would not necessarily have to be built into the machine, but it would have to be available for purchase.

It's about a computer you could buy that was completely assembled and you could take it home and program it in BASIC. He said BASIC did not have to be built in, he did not say it had to be all in one and he did not say it had to hook to a TV.

 

I don't think the Intel Intellec 8 from '73 counts since it was only built on request and I don't think BASIC was ever available for it.

 

I specifically pointed out there were plug in boards that added a video display to Altairs, IMSAIs, and SWTPC machines anyway. You just needed an RS232 keyboard. That would make the machines very similar to today's PCs.

Dealers were selling Altairs, IMSAIs, and SWTPC machines but they were not selling the Sphere, and given the number produced it sounds like you would have difficulty even buying one at all let alone a working one. Also notice the following comment:

 

In October 1976, Wayne wrote this, "When I visited Sphere back in August 1975 they were expected to ship hardware in a few weeks and were certain they would have BASIC available for it in the same time slot. I think the hardware finally got out in about 4 months (complete systems, I mean) and to my knowledge they have not yet shipped BASIC in any good usable form."

Four months from Oct '76 puts the machine in late '76 or early '77 depending on lead time for the article and after the SOL. However, Scott Adams was supposedly the first customer to receive a machine and that was in '75 but it was DOA. I don't think the guy could deliver working machines until late '76 even though he tried in '75.

On top of that I think it's pretty clear the guy never delivered on his BASIC promise.

There's a reason he stopped making machines.

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Also notice the following comment:

 

In October 1976, Wayne wrote this, "When I visited Sphere back in August 1975 they were expected to ship hardware in a few weeks and were certain they would have BASIC available for it in the same time slot. I think the hardware finally got out in about 4 months (complete systems, I mean) and to my knowledge they have not yet shipped BASIC in any good usable form."

Four months from Oct '76 puts the machine in late '76 or early '77 depending on lead time for the article and after the SOL.

 

Actually, he said he wrote it in 1976, but the time mentioned around 4 month shipping from was August 1975.

So, that would put it in early 1976, not early 1977..

(Possibly even late 1975)

 

I take your point about quantity tho..

At those small quantities, I'm trying to decide if it's a real production run or an ambitious homebrew. Yes, it was available as a complete kit, but it almost sounds like (I'm assuming this from what I read) they were custom builds tho.

That one has a lot of grey area (as do a lot of these.. :-) .

And we still never found out if they ever delivered a "usable" Basic... This one is an interesting case...

 

desiv

Edited by desiv

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Holy crap you people take these things seriously! The conversation was previouisly talking about the Apple II, the TRS-80, and the PET when someone brought up the SOL-20 and there seemed to be general consenses that it qualified. If the SOL-20 qualifies then the Sphere should qualify in my opinion. Most of us (here anyway) know that the Altair and IMSAI preceded these machines but nobody was bringing them up. When you look at the sphere it has all the qualities of the machines that were being discussed. There are people that had completed systems delivered in late 1975/early 1976 (there is some question on kits to compeleted systems for dates)... Not very many to be sure but they were out there.

 

The build quality appeared to be poor (many DOA systems that had to be fixed) and the price was higher than some of thier eventual competitors and the BASIC was buggy. They were a small shop and did not know how to expand their assembly line - they were built by hand so it was slow and expensive and they went out of business. That doesn't mean they were not the first "all-in-one" out there.

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I take your point about quantity tho..

 

At those small quantities, I'm trying to decide if it's a real production run or an ambitious homebrew. Yes, it was available as a complete kit, but it almost sounds like (I'm assuming this from what I read) they were custom builds tho.

 

That one has a lot of grey area (as do a lot of these.. :-) .

And we still never found out if they ever delivered a "usable" Basic... This one is an interesting case...

 

desiv

 

"Usable" may be a stretch but there is a metion about it in an old InfoWorld Article

 

The paragraph metioning it is at the bottom of the middle column. Basically it says that the BASIC was really slow, that a few were delivered to computer stores, then the company was gone *poof*.

 

I agree there may need to be a definition of a minimum quanity.. What would the number be? I think the sol sold somwhere in the 20,000 range?

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The paragraph metioning it is at the bottom of the middle column. Basically it says that the BASIC was really slow, that a few were delivered to computer stores, then the company was gone *poof*.

I agree there may need to be a definition of a minimum quanity.. What would the number be? I think the sol sold somwhere in the 20,000 range?

 

Interesting article.. So, the Sphere was actually delivered to computer stores? (Although what qualified as a computer store in 1975/1976? :-).

So, we have low quantity, but apparently (if it's all true) we have a complete system assembled and available in at least some computer stores, possibly with a BASIC that worked (albeit slowly and possibly badly.)...

 

But we're talking in the hundreds.. Compared to the SOL and others in the thousands...

 

Hmm..

 

I wonder what Bill L. has to say about this from the Computer Historian perspective.. :-)

 

desiv

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Interesting article.. So, the Sphere was actually delivered to computer stores? (Although what qualified as a computer store in 1975/1976? :-).

So, we have low quantity, but apparently (if it's all true) we have a complete system assembled and available in at least some computer stores, possibly with a BASIC that worked (albeit slowly and possibly badly.)...

 

But we're talking in the hundreds.. Compared to the SOL and others in the thousands...

 

Hmm..

 

I wonder what Bill L. has to say about this from the Computer Historian perspective.. :-)

 

desiv

 

Man I hate re-reading my previous posts in quotes and seeing how many words I mispelled (I forgot to hit the check spelling key) :)

 

From the number of full page (and multi-page) ads I saw from Sphere over an extended period in numerous old BYTE mags I am suprised at the small number of systems they sold. Good engineers, Great marketers, crappy production lines!

 

I really wish more of the early computer magazines were archived and searchable online.. Though it does seem pretty apparent that a lot of people had the same great ideas in 1975/1976 and tried to get some attention by announcing systems well before they were ready to ship.

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The Altair had sold over 5000 units according to that article that also talked about the Sphere, and that was probably as many as they could produce. If the Sphere sold less than 2000 in it's entire life there was probably a good reason. I'd say they had too many dissatisfied customers and they went broke. If they had stuck around they might have been able to port the SWTPC's BASIC and it would have ceased to be an issue.

 

I think Sphere 1 certainly takes the prize for first all in one under a certain price.

I think it was certainly the first 6800 system advertised even if they didn't ship until Oct '75. The ship date is clearly a question as the magazine article conflicts with Scott Adams account. Maybe they tried to ship some machines earlier and all machines were defective. Then they tried to fix their problems and give it another go. That's just a guess though.

 

The Altair systems were selling as kits early in '75, the SWTPCs in late '75 (?), and the Sphere... sometime in '75 (?)... so all these machines were being rushed to market around the same time. If you look through some of the SWTPC stuff you will find stores were paying people to assemble kits and were selling the completed systems, probably even before the companies were selling completed systems themselves. So even if the company only offered a kit you could still buy a completed system from a dealer.

 

Now, here may be the deciding issue.

Altair BASIC was first shown to Altair in March of '75. It was probably made available shortly after that making it the first of these machines you could buy WITH BASIC based on the following comment about Sphere:

In October 1976, Wayne wrote this, "When I visited Sphere back in August 1975 they were expected to ship hardware in a few weeks and were certain they would have BASIC available for it in the same time slot. I think the hardware finally got out in about 4 months (complete systems, I mean) and to my knowledge they have not yet shipped BASIC in any good usable form."

Note the comment about August '75 and they expected to ship BASIC in a few weeks. Even if the Sphere 1 shipped before the Altair, it's BASIC came out after the Altair's. That would make Altair the first to meet the criteria in the original question.

 

If you don't want to enter the bootstrap program from switches on the front of the computer just so you can load BASIC and you want the BASIC usable, then you have to wait for the SOL and SWTPC machines that came with a monitor in ROM.

 

Really, who was first depends on what criteria you use.

 

<edit>

If you consider machines assembled by the dealer and sold as complete then the Apple I isn't far behind. But then it only sold about 200 units total. However, it might have been the first single board computer... granted the cassette interface was still a plug in board.

Edited by JamesD

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Here's my take... Anything without a production run of AT LEAST several thousand and was not reasonably available nationwide (in the US), probably shouldn't count. There has to be some type of reasonable threshold to qualify as a mainstream system.

 

Also, no one is (or really can) disputing the fact that the Altair 8800 was the first widely available (and sold) personal computer, and oh yes, it did have an initial paper tape version of BASIC. However, if you want to consider it a pre-assembled, type of turn key system (i.e., similar to what most people would consider a computer--keyboard, output to a monitor or TV, etc.) - which is essentially what we're trying to get at here - it's a very hard argument to make. In my opinion, for the purposes of this discussion, the complete systems really should come from the first party and be the PRIMARY way the machines are sold (rather than in kit form). Naturally, the Altair 8800 - albeit with a great deal of effort, expertise, and expense - could be made into a recognizable complete system (running CP/M), but that's not what we're after here.

 

I think we still need to consider the SOL-20 as the first system to meet a reasonable plug and play type of computer requirement with a version of BASIC available for it. Having apparently sold >20,000 units from roughly 1976 - 1979 in a mixture of kit and pre-assembled units and being available nationwide seems to exceed the "reasonable" threshold. It still appears that the Apple II would qualify as the first mainstream system with BASIC in ROM, though.

 

So, to summarize, I propose that we use the idea of "mainstream computer" to separate the contenders from the handful of also-rans and never-was's, since it's a muddy mess and it seems many such systems were in development and/or in limited release.

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Here's my take... Anything without a production run of AT LEAST several thousand and was not reasonably available nationwide (in the US), probably shouldn't count. There has to be some type of reasonable threshold to qualify as a mainstream system.

I agree.

 

Also, no one is (or really can) disputing the fact that the Altair 8800 was the first widely available (and sold) personal computer, and oh yes, it did have an initial paper tape version of BASIC.

FWIW, cassette and disk interfaces were available for the Altair and IMSAI. I'm sure BASIC wasn't just on paper tape.

 

However, if you want to consider it a pre-assembled, type of turn key system (i.e., similar to what most people would consider a computer--keyboard, output to a monitor or TV, etc.) - which is essentially what we're trying to get at here - it's a very hard argument to make.

But PCs have a separate keyboard, monitor and CPU unit. The Altair and IMSAI both could be configured the same way with plug in cards. Don't modern PCs qualify?

 

In my opinion,

And you are entitled to it.

 

for the purposes of this discussion, the complete systems really should come from the first party and be the PRIMARY way the machines are sold (rather than in kit form).

But expansion of the Altair, IMSAI, and SWTPC machines was through plug in boards and machines were available assembled.

You also had to plug boards into the first PCs for video, expanded RAM, printer interfaces, serial interfaces...

Then there is CGA, Trident, etc...

System builders and dealers commonly ordered PCs in pieces separately and assembled them into machines for the customer by plugging the components together. Are you going to say those don't count because they didn't come that way from the first party? Any savvy dealer or system builder could do the same with the older machines, they were just a chassis with plug in boards.

 

And for a running system, even the SOL required plug in boards, just fewer of them.

 

Naturally, the Altair 8800 - albeit with a great deal of effort, expertise, and expense - could be made into a recognizable complete system (running CP/M), but that's not what we're after here.

The dealer in New York was selling pre-assembled systems before the SOL. And the very makers of the SOL actually produced a board for the other machines that let you hook up a keyboard and monitor, not a terminal. If size is an issue have you looked at some of the modern PC cases? They are bigger than the Altair or IMSAI!

 

As for "a great deal of effort, expertise, and expense"... it consists of opening the top of the computer and plugging in boards. I'm pretty sure the dealer could do that for you just like with PCs years later.

Expensive? Well, the SOL wasn't cheap either. Even in 1978, a SOL 32K disk system was over $5000 assembled (Popular Science article) when similar Apples were available far cheaper and Apples were pretty expensive for the home user.

The SOL was just another S100 system anyway. A 4K RAM or any other board for it would cost the same as for the Altair or IMSAI. And adding it involved opening the case and plugging the board in a slot.

 

Where exactly do we draw the line on expanding on the original question which was pretty open ended?

Most Altairs, IMSAIs, and SOLs were sold to businesses anyway.

If you are going to add conditions and talk about hooking it to a TV then you have to say was it a home computer?

The SOL was an all in one computer (unless you bought the disk drive) but I don't think anything before the Apple II, PET and TRS-80 were a home computer.

 

I think we still need to consider the SOL-20 as the first system to meet a reasonable plug and play type of computer requirement with a version of BASIC available for it.

If you say something like all in one, integrated with keyboard or something like that then I would agree with that statement. Otherwise... no. Reasonable is pretty vague. Especially when the other machines were in use by hobbyists before the SOL existed. Face it, Microsoft wrote made their first version of BASIC for the Altair. That's pretty much a key component of most of the personal computers that followed except Atari.

 

Having apparently sold >20,000 units from roughly 1976 - 1979 in a mixture of kit and pre-assembled units and being available nationwide seems to exceed the "reasonable" threshold.

And all the websites but one say >10,000 units. Either way I do agree it exceeds a reasonable threshold where the Sphere does not. But I think the Altair, IMSAI and SWTPC machines would probably meet the same threshold given the comments I've found (sales were fantastic, >5000 sold in 1975, etc...).

 

It still appears that the Apple II would qualify as the first mainstream system with BASIC in ROM, though.

I would take that a step further and say it was the first real home computer. I don't think BASIC in ROM was mandatory for a home computer though. I think people would agree that the Adam was a home computer and it loaded BASIC from tape... and it also had multiple components.

 

So, to summarize, I propose that we use the idea of "mainstream computer" to separate the contenders from the handful of also-rans and never-was's, since it's a muddy mess and it seems many such systems were in development and/or in limited release.

I propose we make things pretty specific if we are going to expand on the original question.

 

One of the magazine articles you linked to said the Altair had sold over 5000 units by the time the author visited in Fall '75, and they were still selling... don't try to tell me it was an also ran or never was in limited release. The Sphere yes but Altair, IMSAI, or SWTPC... definitely not. They sold thousands of machines.

BTW the SOL was an Altair clone that just combined existing components onto one huge motherboard anyway. Everything in it was based on S100 cards for the Altair/IMSAI machines.

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The original IBM PC was sold "complete", by the way, adding cards was an option. The minimum configuration you could buy had 16K and Cassette BASIC in ROM. It also had a keyboard. So yeah, ready to go.

 

Also, I maintain there's a difference between say Altair or IMSAI offering complete ready-to-go-systems (keyboard, display, etc., which they didn't) and a third party dealer offering them in any number of configurations. It wasn't just one configuration because it wasn't coming from the first party manufacturers--it was up to dealer whim, if any, to offer "complete" systems. We're rehashing the same points, though. Again, what you want to consider "first" anything and why is entirely open to personal interpretation. I've said my peace on the subject and am satisfied that the SOL-20 was the first recognizable mainstream ready-to-go personal computer with an available BASIC under one definition, and the Apple II under another definition (namely having BASIC in ROM). I'm also satisfied that the Altair was the first mainstream personal computer, but with a qualifier when you bring things like "complete", "user friendly" and "recognizable to the average computer user" into the equation. I consider that a kit computer, even in its assembled form, because you'd still need to make significant additions to it to make it a "user friendly" system, i.e., more than just flipping switches and blinking lights. Naturally there were other systems both before and during the runs of those three (Altair, SOL-20, Apple II), but nothing that was either targeted to the average consumer or was purchasable by most people.

Edited by Bill_Loguidice
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Not sure why I didn't think of checking there before, but it you want to see a SOL-20 running:

 

There were some other SOL videos too.. I didn't see any Sphere videos.. No surprise there.. :-) :-)

 

desiv

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Something very interesting and for the most part unrelated:

 

Looking for a video of the Sphere I ran into an article about the first "home computer game" created by the Adams brothers. One went on to create Happy computer (happy drive!) and the other went to form Adventure international. Scott Adams created his first home games on a Sphere Computer in 1976 by the way :)

 

Anyway! the hand written code for that first game he sold for 195,700 dollars!

 

Here is the article: Adams Article

 

and the scans of the code: Expensive Code

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Not sure why I didn't think of checking there before, but it you want to see a SOL-20 running:

 

There were some other SOL videos too.. I didn't see any Sphere videos.. No surprise there.. :-) :-)

 

desiv

Some other videos of old dinosaur computers...

 

Showing how the front switches on the Altair were used and loading a demo. This is the most primitive form of the machine.

 

An equivalent IMSAI, it looks much more professional and the larger switches are easier to use

 

I have actually had to enter a program into a Harris mainframe from the same type of switches.

It's not difficult, you just don't want to screw up setting switches or hit the wrong button... not very user friendly.

It's actually much worse converting code to the bit (switch) settings. Hand assembling a program sucks.

It was for a class btw. Oh, and the Harris uses octal rather than HEX. Eeewwww!

 

An SWTPC run from a teletype machine rather than a terminal. I hope you have a lot of paper if you are going to tray this!

I'd say it was a rare setup or something the owner threw together. The SWTPC actually has the bootstrap in ROM but with that interface you can't really tell it's easier to use.

 

IMSAI with terminal loading and running BASIC like it would from paper tape except substituting a PC for the paper tape reader. A business might have this setup but a hobbyist would probably have something cheaper as a terminal if they went that route.

 

IMSAI with video board and tape interfaces by Processor Technologies. Showing 4K BASIC on cassette. Patching a bug in a program with the built in monitor on a PROM board? Basically, this appears to be an IMSAI with S100 boards equivalent to a standard SOL. It's probably what most dealers were selling at the time the SOL was introduced. I'd guess the keyboards they sold had cases though. This one might be a hobby setup or something an engineer might have given the bare wires.

 

You can see the steady progression towards friendlier computers and then the leap to the all in one design of the SOL.

It's pretty obvious why sales of the other systems dropped once the SOL and Apple II were introduced. But still, the SOL is an Altair clone at heart. One of the personality modules listed on one site even ran CP/M so it could run Altair/IMSAI software. I wonder if that was aftermarket or from Processor Technologies since they seemed reluctant to license CP/M.

Edited by JamesD

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Not sure why I didn't think of checking there before, but it you want to see a SOL-20 running:

 

There were some other SOL videos too.. I didn't see any Sphere videos.. No surprise there.. :-) :-)

 

desiv

Some other videos of old dinosaur computers...

 

Showing how the front switches on the Altair were used and loading a demo. This is the most primitive form of the machine.

 

An equivalent IMSAI, it looks much more professional and the larger switches are easier to use

 

I have actually had to enter a program into a Harris mainframe from the same type of switches.

It's not difficult, you just don't want to screw up setting switches or hit the wrong button... not very user friendly.

It's actually much worse converting code to the bit (switch) settings. Hand assembling a program sucks.

It was for a class btw. Oh, and the Harris uses octal rather than HEX. Eeewwww!

 

An SWTPC run from a teletype machine rather than a terminal. I hope you have a lot of paper if you are going to tray this!

I'd say it was a rare setup or something the owner threw together. The SWTPC actually has the bootstrap in ROM but with that interface you can't really tell it's easier to use.

 

IMSAI with terminal loading and running BASIC like it would from paper tape except substituting a PC for the paper tape reader. A business might have this setup but a hobbyist would probably have something cheaper as a terminal if they went that route.

 

IMSAI with video board and tape interfaces by Processor Technologies. Showing 4K BASIC on cassette. Patching a bug in a program with the built in monitor on a PROM board? Basically, this appears to be an IMSAI with S100 boards equivalent to a standard SOL. It's probably what most dealers were selling at the time the SOL was introduced. I'd guess the keyboards they sold had cases though. This one might be a hobby setup or something an engineer might have given the bare wires.

 

You can see the steady progression towards friendlier computers and then the leap to the all in one design of the SOL.

It's pretty obvious why sales of the other systems dropped once the SOL and Apple II were introduced. But still, the SOL is an Altair clone at heart. One of the personality modules listed on one site even ran CP/M so it could run Altair/IMSAI software. I wonder if that was aftermarket or from Processor Technologies since they seemed reluctant to license CP/M.

 

A interesting little fact about these, they could also produce sound by sending radio wave interference to a AM radio near by (discovered by Steve Dompier back around 1976)

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A interesting little fact about these, they could also produce sound by sending radio wave interference to a AM radio near by (discovered by Steve Dompier back around 1976)

People used to do the same thing on the TRS-80 Model 1 from what I understand. I never personally saw it work. Using the cassette out worked better for games anyway so it was little more than a novelty. That was about the time the FCC cracked down and computers started coming out with everything shielded... marking the end to the radio music.

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You can see the steady progression towards friendlier computers and then the leap to the all in one design of the SOL.

It's pretty obvious why sales of the other systems dropped once the SOL and Apple II were introduced. But still, the SOL is an Altair clone at heart. One of the personality modules listed on one site even ran CP/M so it could run Altair/IMSAI software. I wonder if that was aftermarket or from Processor Technologies since they seemed reluctant to license CP/M.

 

Fundamentally, I think that's the only area where our general opinions differ. You seem to see the SOL as nothing more than an improved clone of the Altair, similar to the IMSAI, only a bit more kitted out. I see it as taking what became the S-100 bus "standard" - thanks to the IMSAI's cloning of the Altair's core architecture kicking the idea off - and creating the first recognizable mass produced, complete system for sale.

 

In my opinion, the SOL-20 was tweaked enough from the original Altair vision to truly be considered its own system/platform. My argument in the latter part of this thread is that - as far as I've been able to determine - the only way to get a complete Altair or IMSAI (either through the addition of a terminal or combination of add-on cards and the necessary add-ons like display, keyboard, and storage) was through individual dealer whim. In other words, there was no standard factory configuration available from either MITS or IMS equivalent to what became available from Processor Technology Corporation by no later than early 1977. That to me is the important distinction for my purposes.

 

So, as for important milestones in mainstream personal computing systems, I'd go with, for instance, the introduction of the Altair 8800 in 1975, which was notable for being the first relatively low cost and readily available personal computer intended for hobbyist use; the introduction of the IMSAI 8080 towards the end of 1975, which was the first clone of another system and helped to firmly establish the S-100 bus as an industry standard; the introduction of the SOL-20 in late 1976/early 1977, which was the first mass produced complete system available for wide sale; and the June 1977 release of the Apple II, which was the first mass produced complete system available for wide sale with BASIC in ROM.

 

There were naturally other firsts of less significance for the remainder of the decade, like the VideoBrain (circa 1977) being the first cartridge-based computer and the first computer with joystick ports standard (in fact, it had four of them), and the APF Imagination Machine (circa late 1978/early 1979), being the first videogame console (APF M-1000) with a full computer add-on.

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A interesting little fact about these, they could also produce sound by sending radio wave interference to a AM radio near by (discovered by Steve Dompier back around 1976)

People used to do the same thing on the TRS-80 Model 1 from what I understand. I never personally saw it work. Using the cassette out worked better for games anyway so it was little more than a novelty. That was about the time the FCC cracked down and computers started coming out with everything shielded... marking the end to the radio music.

 

interesting

 

talking about the TRS-80 I did use to own a TRS-80 Model II (that was given to me) but i lacked the disks for it, i ended up having to sell it. i also owned a COCO as well.

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