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The history of programming languages is intimately linked to the development of hardware. For example, LISP could not be implemented on 8-bit machines until at least 128K bytes of available memory could be had. For that reason perhaps, the first programming languages for microcomputers were relatively primitive. One of them, of course, is the BASIC, whose first version of Microsoft, was implemented in the Altair systems, which were very rudimentary microcomputers but which were undoubtedly the first step that technology would take for the development of computer equipment for the masses. .
Altair BASIC was an interpreter of the BASIC programming language, which could be run on a Altair 8800 from MITS. Bill Gates remembers that when he and Paul Allen read about the Altair (1975), they realized that home computers would start to proliferate and would quickly come down in price. Therefore, they decided that selling software could be a big business. Gates thought that a BASIC interpreter would be a good argument for more fans to buy an Altair computer and then contacted MITS founder Ed Roberts, who was told they were working on a BASIC interpreter and invited him to see a demonstration.
It must be said that Micro-soft, as they were originally called, did not have any product. What they were measuring was the interest of the idea. Roberts became interested and decided to meet a few weeks later to see the BASIC interpreter. Curiously neither Allen nor Gates had an Altair or an interpreter, but Allen had written an 8008 processor emulator, which ran on a PDP-10 computer. He adapted the emulator based on Altair's guidance and tested it on a PDP-10 from Harvard University. The University when it knew of what they did Allen and Gates put objections, but there was no regulation regarding the use of the computer systems of the institution.
Gates and Allen then bought machine time from a service in Boston to complete their BASIC interpreter. A Harvard student, Monte Davidoff, was hired to write the floating-point routines, which was an advance in front of most of the interpreters that were beginning to emerge. When the interpreter finished, he had entry / exit instructions, and a line editor. And all in just 4K of memory, which left a good margin for the programs.
The final version was printed on paper and Allen flew to Albuquerque to speak with Roberts. On the plane he realized he had not written the boot program and wrote it on the flight itself. This had to be fed 'by hand' on the Altair demo machine and when the tape was finally read with the interpreter and the system prompt appeared, they knew that everything would work.
Roberts agreed to distribute the Microsoft interpreter and hired them to continue getting updates. The original version of 4K came out, to later get a better 8K, another call Extended BASIC in addition to Extended ROM BASIC and even Disk BASIC. These versions were very popular at the Homebrew Computer Club. However, the members of that club began copying the interpreter without paying for it. It was probably the first case of piracy and Microsoft was the first victim. When Gates found out, he wrote a tough open letter to the pirates, telling them that this could kill the nascent software industry, but many fans responded defensively.
Eventually Microsoft would stop supporting the interpreter for Altair and complained that he had not been paid what he had promised. They went to trial and to Roberts' surprise, Microsoft won the lawsuit. Finally Microsoft began to consolidate when they decided to get into the creation of the operating system, MsDOS that, coincidentally, has a similar story about how it was created.
The software already disassembled, can be seen here. As far as is known, Gates has never made it public.
Translation of the original article in UnoCero