Gary Kildall was a 30-year old Ph.D. in computer science at the Naval Postgraduate in Monterey, California.
In early 1972, he got a look at a new microchip produced by Intel Systems. The inch-long Intel 4004 had been designed to work inside a desktop calculating machine, but Kildall and a handful of his fellow technophiles saw the 4004 for what was the nucleus of a revolution in micro computing.
For the first time, the entire central processing unit of a computer had been contained within a single inexpensive microchip. A magazine once said that “Intel was selling a computer for $25”
With 2,300 transistors packed into a chip smaller than a human thumb, the Intel 4004 could theoretically power a computer compact enough to sit on a desktop. Immediately, Kildall set out to prove it could be done.
He worked nights and weekends on the project for more than a year, patiently developing hundreds of laborious workarounds to cope up with 4004’s limited memory. Kildall couldn’t afford to buy many of the computer components he needed to complete the task, so he bartered with Intel for hardware by trading some of the new software code he was writing.
At the time, Kildall had a wife and young son at home and was living on a $20,000-a-year teaching income. He probably should have had other priorities. But Kildall was one of those who gets a vision in his heart and feels compelled to make it real.
In 1973, he walked into the computer science department carrying a giant suitcase-sized box and plunked it down on his desk. It is heavy and ugly and didn’t do very much, but it was his very first personal computer. Kildall took it around the school, showing it off proudly to the amazement of hundreds of his fellow faculty and students.