New museum shows rise of computers



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Posted on October 25, 2012 at 10:08 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 25 at 10:29 PM

SEATTLE --  As the world gets its hands on Windows 8, inside a non-descript building in Seattle’s Sodo district you can step back into history of computers . The building blocks of modern computing come alive, the flashing lights of old main frames, and the click-clack of teletypes fill the Living Computer Museum.

The brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the museum is the only place like it in the country. Specialists carefully restore the old hulks into working order, and visitors can use the machines which once filled rooms, that are a fraction of the computing power of your smartphone.
Bob Barnett, the museum’s business manager, speaks fondly of the machines like grand-children. “We are the only museum in the world that makes these things run,” Barnett said.
“Paul (Allen) is very interested in education for kids, that’s where he learned this stuff at Lakeside High School,” Barnett adds.
A late 1960’s computer made by Xerox sports a pinball game, and uses the first mouse. The monitor, which looks sideways compared to modern flat screens, was designed to mimic a sheet of paper. It was made by a copier company after all.
The big breakthrough for the world of computing came with the advent of the Altair 8800. It was a kit gobbled up by hobbyists. It has simple switches and lights, but it was the box which spawned a revolution. It was the first microcomputer, and when a young Paul Allen saw it on the cover of a magazine, he had to have one.
“It looks like it started the revolution,” said Robert Zaller, one of the co-founders of the company which launched the Altair 8800. They didn’t see it like that at first. “So we just looked at it as the next step,” Zaller said during a visit to the museum,” It was very difficult to see beyond that.”
But Allen, and Bill Gates saw the future, and were quick to act. “The word went out that we were going to need software,” Zaller remembered, “So the question was who was going to be the first to deliver the software.”
That question was answered quickly when Allen and Gates delivered the Basic operating system to the engineers behind the Altair 8800, and Microsoft was born.
Now decades and a billion PCs sold worldwide later, the next generation Windows is being released, and you can trace the latest software back to its beginnings at the Living Computer Museum.
The Living Computer Museum is located at 2245 1st Ave S. For more information, call 206-342-2020 or online at LIVINGCOMPUTERMUSEUM.COM