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Open Letter

Week of April 20, 2004

                                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 fea-
tures to BASIC. Now we have 4K, 8K, EXTENDED, ROM and DISK BASIC.
The values 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
make the time spent of 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 soft-
ware 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 af-
ford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put
3-man years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his pro-
duct 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 lit-
tle 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 mak-
ing 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
    I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up, or
has a suggestion to comment. Just write me at 1180 Alvarado SE, #114,
Alburquerque, 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
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