By William Henry Gates III
February 3, 1976
An Open Letter to Hobbyists
To me, the most critical thing in the hobby market right now is the lack of
good software courses, books and software itself. Without good software and
an owner who understands programming, a hobby computer is wasted. Will
quality software be written for the hobby market?
Almost a year ago, Paul Allen and myself, expecting the hobby market to
expand, hired Monte Davidoff and developed Altair BASIC. Though the initial
work took only two months, the three of us have spent most of the last year
documenting, improving and adding features to BASIC. Now we have 4K, 8K,
EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC. The value of the computer time we have used
exceeds $40,000.
The feedback we have gotten from the hundreds of people who say they are
using BASIC has all been positive. Two surprising things are apparent,
however, 1) Most of these "users" never bought BASIC (less than 10% of all
Altair owners have bought BASIC), and 2) The amount of royalties we have
received from sales to hobbyists makes the time spent on Altair BASIC worth
less than $2 an hour.
Why is this? As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal
your software. Hardware must be paid for, but software is something to share.
Who cares if the people who worked on it get paid?
Is this fair? One thing you don't do by stealing software is get back at MITS
for some problem you may have had. MITS doesn't make money selling software.
The royalty paid to us, the manual, the tape and the overhead make it a
break-even operation. One thing you do do is prevent good software from being
written. Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist
can put 3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his
product and distribute for free? The fact is, no one besides us has invested
a lot of money in hobby software. We have written 6800 BASIC, and are writing
8080 APL and 6800 APL, but there is very little incentive to make this
software available to hobbyists. Most directly, the thing you do is theft.
What about the guys who re-sell Altair BASIC, aren't they making money on
hobby software? Yes, but those who have been reported to us may lose in the
end. They are the ones who give hobbyists a bad name, and should be kicked
out of any club meeting they show up at.
I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or has a
suggestion or comment. Just write to me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114,
Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87108. Nothing would please me more than being able
to hire ten programmers and deluge the hobby market with good software.
Bill Gates
General Partner, Micro-Soft