The Osborne 1: 30 years old this month
We remember the first commercial portable PC
The Osborne 1, the world's first commercially produced computer designed to be portable, is 30 years old this month.
Adam Osborne, founder of the Osborne Computer Corporation, introduced the 11kg machine in April 1981, though it didn't go into mass production until June 1981.
The Osborne 1
It was not the first machine of its kind, though it was the first portable machine people could buy. Five years previously, technologist Alan Kay had conceived - and colleagues Doug Fairbairn, Adele Goldberg and Larry Tesler then built - a portable computing prototype called the NoteTaker. The device was created at Xerox's technology hothouse, the Palo Alto Research Centre. Fairbairn and co. went on to construct nine further prototypes.
Such is the strong resemblance between his later machine and the NoteTaker, it's hard to conclude that Osborne hadn't seen it. If not, his designer, Lee Felsenstein, may well have done.
Both Osborne and Felsenstein were early members of the Homebrew Computer Club, a band of hobbyists founded in 1975. The HCC attracted a host of Silicon Valley technology fans, many of whom would become major players in the industry, Apple founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak among them.
Through the HCC, Felsenstein and Osborne were well placed to hear about the likes of the NoteTaker.
In any case, whoever attempted to build a portable computer in the late 1970s would have produced something a lot like the NoteTaker.
Next page: Unpacking the portable
"Portable as a suitcase full of bricks", people said at the time. The luggability wasn't an issue for my father and me (it never moved once from where we first installed it); what sold it for us was the software bundle, which was unique.
The tiny screen gave us pause. The salesman pointed out that text was the same size and legibility as newsprint: all the same, we splashed out on a whopping 9" green monitor. When that died, we never bothered replacing it. It was the easiest computer to maintain I've ever had: if I recall correctly, there were no software updates in nearly ten years use!
Eventually, of course, clients started asking for Windows-compatible files: we decided with some regret to retire the Osborne and buy an IBM PS/1, as I recall, running Windows 3.1.
(And that, gentle readers, was where our troubles began...)
I'm enjoying picturing an alternate past
where the Starbucks coffee-house blight happened ten years earlier and every table was occupied by someone sporting an Osborne
Oh Tony, you should have done more research on The Osborne Effect. There is a rather unique article in the archives of El Reg that debunks the so-called Osborne Effect. Incidentally, that article quotes ME extensively, I ran a major Osborne repair site.
Lift with your knees...
I also thought it a bit unlikely that a skinny lady in high heels could manage to lift a nearly 25lb machine in one hand. My wife certainly couldn't handle such a massive unit. (Stop sniggering at the back)
???????? ....... 1
[Suddenly, all the babble at school about operating systems and libraries and assemblers started to make sense]
your school was >>SO<< different from mine ......