Bill Godbout, RIP 2018

Most recent revision July 13 2023. A version of this was published in the VCF-midatlantic email list on Nov 14 2018.

Bill Godbout passed away Nov 8th 2018, a victim of the California wildfires, in or near his home. I got the news on Nov 16th, from Evan Koblentz of Vintage Computer Federation. A few days later, I got a request from a reporter/blogger for a Godbout catalog image. These inquiries were due to my long-standing interest and support for S-100 systems of the 1970's including those by Bill Godbout.

Compupro was founded by Bill Godbout, whose Godbout Electronics in the 1970s' near Oakland Airport, CA sold digital parts mail-order and locally. Specifically he provided parts to the founders of Processor Tech, Morrow, NorthStar, and others in the Oakland area. Godbout then started his own line of S-100 boards, under Godbout then later Compupro and Viasyn. George Morrow of ThinkerToys and Morrow Designs also produced S-100 boards and systems, in the same Oakland area; he was one of many who started their work with Godbout parts. George passed away in 2003, some time ago, but it's hard not to think of both of them when recalling either person.

[godbout 75] [godbout 75]

Godbout Electronics

Godbout and his companies left a legacy of documents and advertizing. A few are here, from my collection. Thanks to Jack Rubin, I acquired some Godbout flyers in Dec 3 2018 to add to this Web page.

The pair of images left and right, are from a 1975 flyer from Bill Godbout Electronics. It unfolds from a letter-sized document for mailing, to an 11 X 17 inch two-sided document. Here's another Godbout flyer, from summer 1975 and the back side of the same flyer.

Keep in mind that in 1975, these were likely produced from a full-sized layout of hand-drawn graphics and manually-typed text. CAVE grafix produced a number of Godbout flyers. In the days before microprocessors, Godbout sold calculator chips, clock chips, logic ICs, LED digit displays. Many of these were surplus electronic components, some were bulk buys sold individually.

Other people have described Godbout's electronics business near the Oakland Airport in the era. Popular accounts include "Hackers" by Steven Levy; and the now-ironic-named "Fire in the Valley" by Michael Swaine et al. The Valley of course means Silicon Valley, and other locations. The "fire" was the wave of tech companies, some founded by ex-employees of later-giant semiconductor producers like Fairchild and Intel. But many were little companies like Godbout's which were the roots of personal computing. As individuals bought, designed, built and upgraded the earliest microcomputers of the 1970's, they turned to companies like Godbout Electronics to mail-order digital components at the best prices (or at the only prices) they could find.

In July 2023, Allen Whitman described his experiences while assembling Compupro systems at the Oakland facility.

My friend and fellow vintage computerist Bill Degnan, has some Compupro/Godbout ads on his Web site. I have a collection of Compupro and Viasyn documents as part of my S-100 library of mostly-original paper S-100 manuals. Copies are available from me, but many of these have been digitized and can be found on Web archives.

The context of Bill Godbout's microcomputer work

The S-100 bus began as the MITS Altair 8800 bus of 100 pins; "the Altair" is generally considered to be the first microcomputer that was sold in quantity and which led to further supporting products. By my count, over 140 companies large and small produced S-100 type computer boards. In the late 1970's, George Morrow and Bill Godbout co-authored the IEEE-696 specification; essentially the Godbout/Compupro products' S-100 bus architecture. 16 bit data, 24 bit address - enough to eventually run 386-class systems into the 1990's. That bus did good work for a long time. A lot of MS-DOS development work was done with S-100 systems; video processing systems, industrial control, multiuser business systems, and more. Here's a technical description of the history of the S-100 bus.

[Compupro 10]

This image is from a 1984 Compupro brochure. It shows an 8086 system, with four Z80 per-user "slave" boards so each user could run their own program. There's terminals and printers of course. And Arcnet networking was supported. By then, Compupro had sold systems for ten years. Here's pages from Compupro's 1983 catalog; one page for their product line, one page about their history and support services. This was a serious business-supporting computer company. Compupro/Viasyn IEEE-696 systems were built into the mid-1980's, with 80286 processors, 68000's, even National's 32016 processor.

[Morrow Owners Review] [C-PRO Review]

So how long did Morrow and Godbout produce personal computers? Here's a cover from the last Morrow Owners Review magazine of Dec 1987. It was published (not by Morrow! Read my Morrow Web page) to support the Morrow MD series desktop CP/M systems. Did ja know, Morrow produced real PC's? We mostly remember his S-100 cards, and older engineers remember his sales of electronic audio products. I recently obtained a Morrow MD-15 system, with this pile of Morrow MOR magazines. I'm trying to get the hard-drive running, but it boots 128K CP/M right now. I'll show it on my Web site in December 2018. The other photo, is a C-PRO newsletter from the end of 1985. It's full of tech notes and letters to/from Compupro and product reports. Before the Internet, this (and local computer clubs) are how computer owners got the word out.

Morrow's Compupro and Godbout's S-100 cards were well built, well documented; most can still run today. A dual Compupro 8085/88 CPU could run MS-DOS and two flavors of CP/M. They produced a video card that could support IBM-PC compatible CGA video. No small feat to produce in the early 1980's. The 85/88 card was designed before MS-DOS was available. In the era, several S-100 designers had 8088 boards ready to sell, but no CP/M-86 to run on them. This forced the creation of a DOS which became MS-DOS, a story often told, execept for the "S-100" part.

The legacy of 70's vintage computing and Bill Godbout

So, there's a fundamental reason to remember Bill Godbout, George Morrow, and the work they and their cohorts did. They worked at a time when resources were SCARCE, not abundant. There were no computers to help design other computers (unless you borrowed time from a university). I doubt most Morrow hardware was designed on CAD PC layout systems; most microcomputer boards were hand-taped, red and blue tape for two-sided boards! Chips were not cheap, PC boards were not cheap to produce - no offshore boards in the 1970's!

And most people and businesses weren't wealthy in the 1970's. IBM sold PC's in the 80's to the Fortune 500, the 500 biggest companies in America (the world, same thing). That was much easier after Godbout et all did the groundwork. The microcomputer revolution was a bottom-up proposition, not a top-down. Bill Godbout and his colleagues, remind us how to do HARD work, start from LIMITED resources, to build an industry, and to make a market, from near-zero.

There will be another time, when we will have to do that again, start from little. Do you think 21st century engineers and programmers, know how to do that? This is why history of technology matters; to preserve how they did, what they did. Do you think laptops and smart phones will run 30, 40 years from now? Or be repairable when they aren't? Another lesson to preserve. And that's my long view.

Herb Johnson

Herb Johnson
New Jersey, USA
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