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Bill Godbout, a legend in the S-100 community for his 1970s-1980s work at Godbout Electronics and CompuPro, perished November 8 due to the Camp wildfire in Concow, California. He was 79.
There is a family-led GoFundMe campaign to support their needs in this difficult time.
Godbout was an important advocate for the industry-standard S-100 bus in its early days, as well as being a parts supplier for electronic music projects, according to 1970s microcomputing expert Herb Johnson.
Godbout was born October 2, 1939. He talked about his introduction to computing in an interview with InfoWorld magazine for their February 18, 1980 issue. “My first job out of college was with IBM. I served a big-system apprenticeship there, but I think the thing that really triggered [my interest] was the introduction of the 8008 by Intel,” he said. “I was fascinated that you could have that kind of capability in a little 18-pin package.”
Steven Levy, in his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, wrote about Godbout’s Silicon Valley electronics business. “Bill Godbout… bought junk on a more massive scale — usually government surplus chips and parts which were rejected as not meeting the exacting standards required for a specific function, but perfectly acceptable for other uses. Godbout, a gruff, beefy, still-active pilot who hinted at a past loaded with international espionage and intrigues for government agencies whose names he could not legally utter, would take these parts, throw his own brand name on them, and sell them, often in logic circuitry kits that you could buy by mail order.”
“For those of us who lived and did business in the East Bay during the opening years of the personal computer revolution Bill was a friend. He operated Bill Godbout Electronics from a Quonset hut on the margins of the Oakland Airport,” explained Lee Felsenstein, associated with Silicon Valley landmarks such as Community Memory, the Homebrew Computer Club, Processor Technology, and Osborne Computer Corporation. “Bill was a friend and ally to the operators of the first generation of personal computer businesses that grew up in that early period.”
“My only direct interaction with Bill took place in 1979 after Processor Technology closed its doors. I was trying to peddle the next generation VDM card but Bill asked me to design and prototype a simplified VDM-1 S-100 card — I did so but he didn’t take it further for his CompuPro line of computers and add-ons,” Felsenstein said. A year or two later, “He was a member of the poker group that included Adam Osborne, George Morrow, and Chuck Peddle, and made a bet there that Adam would not ship his Osborne-1 computer on time. He lost that bet, but it was a real squeaker — I was involved.”
“Bill put on no airs — he was always ‘one of the guys’ and dealt in a straightforward way — this is worth noting for a time just after the opening gun when a new field often brings forth poseurs, popinjays, and pure phonies,” Felsenstein added. “Bill was none of those and we are all distraught to learn that he was taken from us in this terrible way.”
Budding engineer Mark Graybill got a job assembling clocks and other electronic gadgets at Godbout’s Oakland facility in 1976. “I’d jump on a bus after school, go down there, and originally I’d go in and work at an assembly station. I was lucky to be in the area at the time. It was cool to be doing something in electronics,” Graybill recalled. “He was kind of like the friendly uncle who’d let you take the sports car for a spin and laugh when you crashed it… I’ll remember him as the guy who trusted a 14-year-old kid with a sackful of hundreds of dollars of RAM because it was too difficult to take the bus down everyday.”
VCF board member Bill Degnan has resigned from his post but will remain an active member of the Vintage Computer Forum, an exhibitor at Vintage Computer Festival East, and a participant in the VCF Mid-Atlantic chapter.
Bill has been a close friend since 2004. He was proactive in urging our group to do everything from technical repair workshops to holiday parties to marketing initiatives to inventory control. We wish him well in all his new endeavors, and urge everyone to follow his fantastic blog about vintage computing projects.
Allen and childhood friend Bill Gates started using computers in high school.
“Microsoft would never have happened without Paul,” Gates wrote today. “In December 1974, he and I were both living in the Boston area — he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: ‘This is happening without us!’ That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul.”
Together they ported Dartmouth BASIC to the Altair, made it available through M.I.T.S. on paper tape, and the rest is history. He beat cancer in the 1980s, retired from Microsoft, and became a philanthropist and entrepreneur.
“Whether you collect cars or computers, or I have a few World War II airplanes… It reminds you of the more limited things engineers were able to do. That was a time of true craftsmanship and innovation,” Allen told me in 2006. “I think there’s a fascination with having something from a certain period of time and they’re still working artifacts.”
We wholeheartedly agree, Paul, agree and will bootstrap our Altair from a 4K BASIC paper tape in your honor.
One of our most senior members, Dan Roganti, computed his last cycle recently. You may know his as “Ragooman” in our forums. Dan was incredibly friendly to all, always the first to offer technical help, wickedly funny, and insanely smart. He was as happy working on an Apple II or Commodore 64 as he was on an Altair 680 or a IBM system/36. He also drew most of the artwork for the VCF East t-shirts. About two weeks ago, while in hospice care, he asked us to share this video in the event of his passing. It’s funny!! Please watch it, enjoy, and hug your loved ones a little tighter tonight. Dan will always be with us — the Force was strong with him.
It’s here! Vintage Computer Festival West XIII is this weekend (Aug. 4-5) at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. The hours are Saturday 9am-6pm and Sunday 9am-5:30pm. You’ll find dozens of hands-on exhibits of historic hardware and software, an awesome lecture schedule, our famous consignment booth, and much more. The social media hashtag is #vcfwest — don’t miss the show! Special thanks to our supporters at Hackaday and the Association for Computing Machinery.
Update, Aug. 3: Online ticketing is closed. Tickets will be available at the event.
Vintage Computer Festival West XIII is near, and now you can get tickets online to save time at the show. Tickets are $20 for one day and $30 for both days. Computer History Museum members can pay half-price (at the door). Admission to the door is also half-price if you buy a museum ticket that day — as is museum admission if you buy a VCF ticket that day! We also posted the speaker list. It covers everything from Apple to DOS to a musical to PLATO to technology intellectual property!
Our museum is full of incredibly historic computers, but our production network is modern. We are almost finished rebuilding it! The last major component, which we installed on Saturday, is a rackmount UPS courtesy of Minuteman Power Technologies. Thank you Bill A. over at Minuteman! Our other components were donated by individuals: Martin F. provided the HP rack, two Cisco switches (one with power-over-Ethernet, and one with Ethernet-to-Thicknet conversion), Cisco access point, bare-bones Supermicro server, and patch panel. Jason P. gave us an APC-by-Schneider console. Bill D. provided a suitable computer that’ll become our dial-in BBS server. Dean N. contributed a pair of solid-state drives, one for each server, and he’s getting us all the necessary patch cables. Be sure to visit our supporters page for the full list of companies that help us achieve great things.