Headline Mar 29, 2015/ ''' MICROSOFT - ! LOGGING IN ! '''


EIGHT WEEKS after our first contact with  MITS, the interpreter  [which could save space by executing one snippet of code at a time] was done.

Shoehorned into about  3,200 bytes, roughly 2,000 lines of code, it was one tight little BASIC   -stripped down, for sure, but robust for its size. 

No one could have beaten the functionality and speed crammed into that tiny footprint of memory.

''The best piece of work we ever did,'' as Bill told me recently. And it was a true collaboration. I'd estimate that  45%  of the code was Bill's,  30% Monte's, and 25% mine, excluding my development tools.

All things considered, it was quite an achievement for three people our age. If you checked that  software today, I believe it would stack up against anything written by our old mentors. 

Bill and I had grown into crack programmers. 

And we were just getting started.

As I got ready to go to Albuquerque, Bill began to worry. What if I'd screwed up one of the numbers used to represent the  8080  instructions in the macro assembler? 

Our BASIC had tested out fine on my simulator on the PDP-10, but we had no evidence that the simulator itself was flawless.

A single character out of place might halt the program cold when it ran on the real chip. 

The night before my departure, after I knocked off for a few hours of sleep, Bill Stayed up with the 8080 manual and triple-checked my macros.

He was bleary-eyed the next morning when I stopped by en route to Logan Airport to pick up the fresh paper tape he'd punched out. The byte codes were correct, Bill said. As far as he could tell, my work was error-free.

The flight was uneventful up until the plane's final descent, when it hit me that we'd forgotten something; a bootstrap leader, the small sequence of instructions to tell the Altair how to read the BASIC interpreter and then stick it into memory.

A leader was a necessity for microprocessors in the pre-ROM area; without one, that yellow tape in my briefcase would be worthless. 

I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it at Aiken, where I could have coded it without rushing and simulated and debugged it on the PDP-10.

Now time was short. Minutes before landing, I grabbed a steno pad and began scribbling the loader code in machine language  -no language, no symbols, just a series of three-digit numbers in octal (base 8), the lingua franca for Intel's chips.

Each number represented one byte, a single instruction for the 8080. I knew most of them by heart.

''Hand assembly'' is a famously laborious process, even in small quantities. I finished the program in 21 bytes  -not my most concise work, but I was too rushed to strive for elegance.

I came out of the terminal sweating and dressed in my professional best, a tan Ultrasuede jacket and tie. Ed Roberts was supposed to pick me up, so I stood there for 10 minutes looking for someone in a business suit.

Not far down the entryway to the airport, a pickup truck pulled up and big, burly, jowly guy   -six foot four, maybe 280 pounds   -climbed out. He had on jeans and a short-dressed shirt with a string tie, the first one I'd seen outside of a Western.

He came up to me, and in a booming southern accent he asked, ''Are you Paul Allen?'' His wavy black hair was receding at the front.

I said, ''Yes, are you Ed?''
He said, '' Come on, get in the truck.''

As we bounced over the city's sunbaked streets, I wondered how all this was going to turn out. I'd expected a high-powered executive from from some cutting-edge entrepreneurial firm, like the ones clustered along Route 128, the high-tech beltway around Boston.

The reality had a whole different vibe. On a later trip to Albuquerque, I came down from a plane and got hit in the head by the tumbleweed on the tarmac. I wasn't in Massachusetts anymore.

Ed said, ''Let's go over to MITS so you can see the Altair.'' He drove into low-rent commercial area by the state fairgrounds and stopped at a one story strip mall. 

With its brick facade and big plate-glass windows, the Carl-Linn Building might have looked modern in 1955.

A beauty salon occupied one storefront around the corner. I followed Ed through a glass door and into a light industrial space that housed MITS engineering and manufacturing departments.

As I passed an assembly line of a dozen or so weary-looking workers, stuffing kit boxes with capacitors and Mylar circuit boards, I understood why Ed was focused on getting a BASIC.

He had little interest in software, which he referred to as variable hardware, but he knew that the Altair's sales wouldn't keep expanding unless it could do something useful.

The Honour and Serving of the  ''operational research'' continues. Thank you for reading, and maybe learning. And see Ya all on the following one.

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of U.S. See Ya all on !WOW!  -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

''' Getting With The Program '''

'''Good Night and God Bless

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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