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What was the first computer with a basic language?

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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.

videogame console (APF M-1000) with a full computer add-on.

Here is where we differ on the SOL.

 

Manufactures released reliable cassette interfaces which provided cheap/fast mass storage devices.

Companies released PROM boards with a monitor in EPROM that let the machine boot and load software without needing to manually enter the bootstrap code.

Processor technologies released a CRT/keyboard interface that built the terminal features onto an S100 board.

These boards moved the machines from being mainframe lookalikes to being stand alone systems, made them easier to use, and cut the cost of machines almost in half (no terminal, no paper tape).

 

I see those as evolutionary steps and the SOL as integrating those features.

To me, the only advancements it offered were integration and packaging. Lower prices and easier to build systems were offshoots of those advancements for sure but I don't see it as a revolution that somehow makes it worthy of a special distinction that does not apply to the other machines unless you are just talking about packaging.

You see the SOL as a revolution for all that and anything before it doesn't count because not all machines had those features.

 

Clearly, the video shows that systems with the same features did exist before the SOL, and if we were to follow your logic with PCs, the first PCs that included all the I/O boards on the motherboard would be a revolution and the older PCs don't count because not all machines have the same features built in. It makes no sense at all.

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No one is saying "revolution". The best term for what I described in detail was "milestones". "Revolution" is an entirely different concept, and not even the Altair would necessarily qualify in that case. Yes, the SOL-20's achievement was integration and packaging, and getting tens of thousands of the machines distributed. So what? That's sufficient. It doesn't matter what it was or wasn't based on, it's still a unique system. Regardless, I already provided an umpteen number of sufficient qualifiers, so there's nothing further to say from my end.

 

Also, I can't say it any more clearly, the first IBM PC's and compatibles were all complete systems, from day one in 1981, so your analogy doesn't work. There's a significant difference between something working out of the box direct from the factory and expandibility/expansion options. I can't think of any computer that doesn't offer the latter, but not every computer offers the former.

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I just want to say, regardless of the differences of opinions on this matter..

 

This type of thread and the caliber of the information it provides is one of the main reasons I love AtariAge...

 

:-)

 

Thanx,

 

desiv

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As the person who asked the question that got this debate started, I will throw in my 2 cents worth. I was looking for the first available home computer that I could have bought and started programming on without buying extra hardware (with the possible exception of a tape or disk drive or even paper tape reader). By that, I meant it had to be ready to go out of the box without buying a keyboard, video display adapter, etc. Also, it would have needed a programming language in order to make the computer useful without having to come up with something on my own. I should have specified that it needed a keyboard, because to me "programming" does not mean flipping switches, it means typing. Obviously I'm not from the old school. :) The SOL computer seems to fit the bill. It was widely available for purchase (since there were thousands of them sold) by anyone who had the cash, it had a Basic programming language, and it had a keyboard for input. As far as I'm concerned, SOL wins.

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C64 was my first computer in BASIC. I remember typing in programs from Compute and Compute's Gazette magazine.

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As the person who asked the question that got this debate started, I will throw in my 2 cents worth. I was looking for the first available home computer that I could have bought and started programming on without buying extra hardware (with the possible exception of a tape or disk drive or even paper tape reader). By that, I meant it had to be ready to go out of the box without buying a keyboard, video display adapter, etc. Also, it would have needed a programming language in order to make the computer useful without having to come up with something on my own. I should have specified that it needed a keyboard, because to me "programming" does not mean flipping switches, it means typing. Obviously I'm not from the old school. :) The SOL computer seems to fit the bill. It was widely available for purchase (since there were thousands of them sold) by anyone who had the cash, it had a Basic programming language, and it had a keyboard for input. As far as I'm concerned, SOL wins.

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 :)

Where did you find the info saying they put BASIC on an EPROM?

 

http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/3369

"The first computer a hobbyist could simply turn on and use was the Processor Technology SOL 20. It had its own keyboard, an audio cassette interface, a complete video processor that used numbers and letters (in upper and lower case...), both kinds of input/output ports (serial and parallel), and an internal power supply. It had neither switches nor blinking lights on a complicated-looking front panel. It did have an internal operating system fixed in its memory, which allowed a user to simply plug it to a video monitor and use it. [description of an operating system] Yet the SOL, too, was too complicated for the average user. A buyer still had to know computer programming to use it." So, while BASIC was not in ROM (just a "simple" operating system was), it was apparently readily available on paper tape and cassette (see more info, here, here, and here (the latter of which points to BASIC availability no later than circa January 1977, still well before the Apple II's actual release)).
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 :)

Where did you find the info saying they put BASIC on an EPROM?

 

Third Column first paragraph: Digibarn Scan of Oct 1975 BYTE magazine page

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C64 was my first computer in BASIC. I remember typing in programs from Compute and Compute's Gazette magazine.

 

The C64 was my first computer i ever programmed on.

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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 :)

Where did you find the info saying they put BASIC on an EPROM?

 

Third Column first paragraph: Digibarn Scan of Oct 1975 BYTE magazine page

Crap... I was scanning back through the tread and ran across that and thought you were talking about the SOL, not the Sphere. Du-Oh!

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http://www.armchairarcade.com/neo/node/3369

"The first computer a hobbyist could simply turn on and use was the Processor Technology SOL 20. It had its own keyboard, an audio cassette interface, a complete video processor that used numbers and letters (in upper and lower case...), both kinds of input/output ports (serial and parallel), and an internal power supply. It had neither switches nor blinking lights on a complicated-looking front panel. It did have an internal operating system fixed in its memory, which allowed a user to simply plug it to a video monitor and use it. [description of an operating system] Yet the SOL, too, was too complicated for the average user. A buyer still had to know computer programming to use it." So, while BASIC was not in ROM (just a "simple" operating system was), it was apparently readily available on paper tape and cassette (see more info, here, here, and here (the latter of which points to BASIC availability no later than circa January 1977, still well before the Apple II's actual release)).

 

I referenced that book specifically in my blog post (and duplicated here on AtariAge in an earlier posting) for additional validation of the date of the SOL-20's actual availability. I do take one issue with the author of the book, though, that the SOL was "too complicated for the average user.". That's a relative term and frankly applies to most computers without visual interfaces (and frankly even most of those).

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http://fixunix.com/cp-m/542203-imsai-4k-8k-basic-source.html

According to this site, about 17,000 IMSAI machines were built. I have no idea where they got that info.

 

I would suspect of those types of systems, the IMSAI probably was among the best sellers. Again, it's not wrong in the slightest to say that someone could put together a complete computer system - Altair, IMSAI or any other similar type of unit - that meets all the qualifications of a "typical" personal computer, meaning an OS, BASIC programming language, and terminal (or equivalent separate keyboard, display adapter, display, etc.), but you'd have to go a relatively long way to get there. I think the first practical such setup still applies to the SOL-20, which was then trumped by the Apple II, followed by the rest of the class of '77.

 

I also make this point in my segment on Armchair Arcade's upcoming first podcast, by the way... If the IMSAI configuration featured in the movie, WarGames - no matter how financially improbable to configure even in 1983 - doesn't get your hardcore computing sensibilities fired up, I don't know what will. Personally, even if I'm giving the nod to the SOL-20 in the first "friendly" personal computer category, I still think switch-based computers are about as cool as they come...

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I referenced that book specifically in my blog post (and duplicated here on AtariAge in an earlier posting) for additional validation of the date of the SOL-20's actual availability. I do take one issue with the author of the book, though, that the SOL was "too complicated for the average user.". That's a relative term and frankly applies to most computers without visual interfaces (and frankly even most of those).

Well, I already posted the command required to load BASIC from monitor.

Clearly not difficult to do but not as easy as just turning it on.

 

FWIW, if anyone has actually looked at the Apple II (not the later II+, IIe, etc...) it's built in software was more hobby oriented than what we usually associate with the Apple II series. It only appeared like what we see as an Apple with the intro of the II+. The initial TRS-80 had Level I BASIC which didn't use tokenization of keywords, you had to use abbreviations. It was pretty horrid. And last but not least, the PET had a keyboard but it was made with calculator keys and not in a touch typing layout.

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I referenced that book specifically in my blog post (and duplicated here on AtariAge in an earlier posting) for additional validation of the date of the SOL-20's actual availability. I do take one issue with the author of the book, though, that the SOL was "too complicated for the average user.". That's a relative term and frankly applies to most computers without visual interfaces (and frankly even most of those).

Well, I already posted the command required to load BASIC from monitor.

Clearly not difficult to do but not as easy as just turning it on.

 

FWIW, if anyone has actually looked at the Apple II (not the later II+, IIe, etc...) it's built in software was more hobby oriented than what we usually associate with the Apple II series. It only appeared like what we see as an Apple with the intro of the II+. The initial TRS-80 had Level I BASIC which didn't use tokenization of keywords, you had to use abbreviations. It was pretty horrid. And last but not least, the PET had a keyboard but it was made with calculator keys and not in a touch typing layout.

 

Exactly, so it's funny how Perry would make such a comment about the relative user friendliness of the SOL-20 given the standards of the time. I personally own an original TRS-80 and Commodore PET, but an original Apple II is well out of my price range (or interest level, really, as I have more than enough systems and clones in the II series). That's what I like about talented guys like Vince Briel and why I make sure to get all of his products. Without him, for instance, I wouldn't have better-than-software-emulation exposure to systems like the Apple I, Kim, and Altair without the modern day, low cost "reproductions". It really is a completely different way of computing. Of course there are even more painful ways of programming, like using the keypads on the H-8 or Bally Astrocade, though that's still a step up from purely flipping switches.

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I would suspect of those types of systems, the IMSAI probably was among the best sellers. Again, it's not wrong in the slightest to say that someone could put together a complete computer system - Altair, IMSAI or any other similar type of unit - that meets all the qualifications of a "typical" personal computer, meaning an OS, BASIC programming language, and terminal (or equivalent separate keyboard, display adapter, display, etc.), but you'd have to go a relatively long way to get there. I think the first practical such setup still applies to the SOL-20, which was then trumped by the Apple II, followed by the rest of the class of '77.

I don't think "you'd have to go a relatively long way to get there." We built PCs to peoples specs or for what they wanted to do, and customers just took them home and plugged them in. I see no reason why dealers wouldn't do the same with S100 systems. Maybe that's why I see this differently. Those are just plug in boards and a dealer would carry what was most popular.

 

I also make this point in my segment on Armchair Arcade's upcoming first podcast, by the way... If the IMSAI configuration featured in the movie, WarGames - no matter how financially improbable to configure even in 1983 - doesn't get your hardcore computing sensibilities fired up, I don't know what will. Personally, even if I'm giving the nod to the SOL-20 in the first "friendly" personal computer category, I still think switch-based computers are about as cool as they come...

It did make for one heck of a movie prop even if the only switch you had to use on the front of that machine was the reset switch.

Of all the dozens of S100 machines made only the Altair and IMSAI had more than a couple front switches.

Edited by JamesD

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Interesting..

The thing that strikes me initially is the 1 line 32 character LED display....

And I don't see (in a quick check on that page) a video interface option, although there was an option to connect it to a terminal..

 

While only having a 1 line or external terminal display doesn't mean it's not the first computer with BASIC, I'm not sure I would count it as a recognizable home computer. For that, I'm thinking you'd need a video interface or attached monitor.

 

Basically, it's a big calculator with BASIC and a tape drive.

 

Very KUAL device tho... :-) Off to do more reading on it..

 

desiv

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I think the IBM 5100 would have to qualify even if it was expensive. 16 bit cpu no less.

http://www.vintagecomputer.net/analog-digital.cfm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_5100

 

We already discussed the IBM 5100. It qualifies in every way except being available for home use. I suppose in theory you COULD purchase one for use in the home, but I'm not even sure if IBM would have allowed that at the time.

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Interesting..

The thing that strikes me initially is the 1 line 32 character LED display....

And I don't see (in a quick check on that page) a video interface option, although there was an option to connect it to a terminal..

 

While only having a 1 line or external terminal display doesn't mean it's not the first computer with BASIC, I'm not sure I would count it as a recognizable home computer. For that, I'm thinking you'd need a video interface or attached monitor.

 

Basically, it's a big calculator with BASIC and a tape drive.

 

Very KUAL device tho... :-) Off to do more reading on it..

 

desiv

I would qualify it because you could take it out of the box and go. Also, you could hook it to a terminal, so that is as good as having a monitor. Finally, it was portable (for those days). It may not have been in a lot of houses, but I would say it could have been. At least accountants and scientists anyway.

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Interesting..

The thing that strikes me initially is the 1 line 32 character LED display....

And I don't see (in a quick check on that page) a video interface option, although there was an option to connect it to a terminal..

 

While only having a 1 line or external terminal display doesn't mean it's not the first computer with BASIC, I'm not sure I would count it as a recognizable home computer. For that, I'm thinking you'd need a video interface or attached monitor.

 

Basically, it's a big calculator with BASIC and a tape drive.

 

Very KUAL device tho... :-) Off to do more reading on it..

 

desiv

I would qualify it because you could take it out of the box and go. Also, you could hook it to a terminal, so that is as good as having a monitor. Finally, it was portable (for those days). It may not have been in a lot of houses, but I would say it could have been. At least accountants and scientists anyway.

 

Again, it's up to the individual what they want to qualify and why. There's no wrong answer. With that said, I think having a reasonable number (say a few thousand) in circulation in homes is probably a reasonable qualifier. By that definition, it doesn't qualify.

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