In 1974, a major semiconductor company released its first 8-bit CPU that was good enough to build a serious computer around. In 1975, a smaller company built a computer around it, a horizontal box with backplane and expansion cards, released it as a kit for ~$400 or fully assembled for somewhat more.
The CPU was the 8080, the computer was the Altair 8800, and it took off, inspiring IMSAI, CP/M, and a whole ecosystem of business computing in the late seventies that was sufficiently comprehensive that the Apple II even acquired an expansion card with a Z80 just so that it could run CP/M.
The CPU was the 6800, the computer was the SWTPC 6800 Computer System, and it... I won't say sank without a trace. Surely they sold some units. But it failed to be very popular or influential, to the extent that, though I've done a lot of reading about the history of computing in the last few years, its existence never really registered with me until today.
One can imagine an alternative history in which it was the 6800 that took off in a big way, leading to a future history where the dominant operating system for business computing ran on the 6502. I don't know if that would've been better or worse, but it would certainly have been different.
Why did it not happen?
The 8080 was technically superior to the 6800 in both performance and code density. Did either hobbyists or businesses, at that time, know enough about the respective CPUs to make their decision on that basis? I kind of feel they didn't, though I could be wrong.
The nominal minimum price turns out to have been close to the same, with the SWTPC being slightly cheaper: Why was the SWTPC 6800 Computer System cheaper than the Altair?
The SWTPC didn't come with a front panel with switches and blinking lights; you really needed a keyboard, screen and cassette interface to do anything with it, which made the effective minimum price much higher. That would have been an issue for hobbyists. Was it an issue for businesses? Or was the chain of events that hobbyists bought the Altair, developed other products for it, leading to a scenario where the Altair had a more attractive ecosystem?
Are there any other factors I am missing, that caused the SWTPC to lose out to the Altair in the race to become the industry standard platform?