Ever heard of the KENBAK-1? Recognized as the first personal computer, created by John Blankenbaker and sold in relatively small numbers in 1971, it is now a piece of history. But don’t let that stop you if you’re curious, because there’s an emulator on the web, of course.
If the machine looks a little odd, it’s because early computers of this type didn’t have the kind of controls (or displays) most people would recognize today. Inputs were buttons and switches, and outputs were lights showing binary values of register contents. The machine could store and run programs, and those programs were entered in pure machine code (not a compiler) by setting individual bit values via the switches. In fact, the invention of the KENBAK-1 predated that of the microprocessor.
The KENBAK was the first electronic, commercially available computer that wasn’t a kit and was available to the general population, but the story of how it came about is interesting. In 2016, we covered how that story was shared by John Blankenbaker himself at Vintage Computer Festival East.