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Updated: April 3, 2010 09:26 IST

PC maker, inspiration for Microsoft, dead

AP
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Dr. Henry Edward Roberts with the Altair 8800 computer in Cochran, Ga. Roberts, the developer of an early personal computer that inspired Bill Gates to found Microsoft, died Thursday in Georgia.
File photo: AP Dr. Henry Edward Roberts with the Altair 8800 computer in Cochran, Ga. Roberts, the developer of an early personal computer that inspired Bill Gates to found Microsoft, died Thursday in Georgia.

Bill Gates rushed to Georgia on Friday to be with his mentor

Henry Edward Roberts, a developer of an early personal computer that inspired Bill Gates to found Microsoft, died on Thursday in Georgia. He was 68.

Mr. Roberts, whose build-it-yourself kit concentrated thousands of dollars worth of computer capability in an affordable package, inspired Bill Gates and his childhood friend Paul Allen to come up with Microsoft in 1975, after they saw an article about the MITS Altair 8800 in Popular Electronics.

Mr. Roberts, an ex-military man, later went on to build careers as a farmer and a physician, but continued to keep up with computer advances.

According to hi son David Roberts, he recently told Mr. Gates that he hoped to work with new, nanotechnology-enhanced machines.

“He did think it was pretty neat, some of the stuff they're doing with the processors,” said Mr. David Roberts, who confirmed that Mr. Gates rushed to Georgia on Friday to be with his mentor.

According to his family, Mr. Roberts died in a Macon hospital after a long bout with pneumonia.

“Ed was willing to take a chance on us — two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace — and we have always been grateful to him,” Mr. Gates and Mr. Allen said in a joint statement released on Thursday .

“The day our first untested software worked on his Altair was the start of a lot of great things. We will always have many fond memories of working with Ed.”

The man often credited with kick-starting the modern computer era never intended to lead a revolution.

Born in Miami in 1941, Mr. Roberts spent time in the U.S. Air Force and earned an electrical engineering degree from Oklahoma State University in 1968.

He later parlayed his interest in technology into a business making calculators.

When large firms like Texas Instruments began cornering the business, Mr. Roberts soon found himself in debt, Mr. David Roberts said. Meanwhile, he was gaining an interest in computers at a time when hulking machines were available almost exclusively only at universities.

A funeral is planned Monday, in Cochran.

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