Unpacking the portable
Designed to fit in the space under an airline passenger seat, the Osborne 1 was built out of tough ABS plastic which held its two 5.25in floppy disk drives - each mounted above a disk storage shelf - and a 5in, 52-character by 24-line CRT display, all revealed when the lid was opened.
The 69-key keyboard was built into the lid, which could be unlatched. The keyboard connected to the main unit over a curly phone cable.
Beneath the two drives and the screen were the Osborne 1's ports: an IEEE 488 parallel port and an RS-232 serial connector. Behind all this was the motherboard and integrated mains-fed power transformer.
With no battery on board, the Osborne was a computer you took to work rather than one that allowed to you work anywhere.
The Osborne 1 ran the CP/M 2.2 operating system on a 4MHz Zilog Z80 processor. It had 64KB of memory, considerably more than most home computers of the time.
Priced at a hefty $1795 then - the equivalent of $4349 (£2669) now, thanks to inflation - the Osborne 1 packed an impressive software bundle, including Microsoft's Basic interpreter, Ashton-Tate's dBase II database, sales ledger apps from PeachTree, Sorcim's SuperCalc spreadsheet and MicroPro's WordStar.
It wasn't just a business machine: Osborne also chucked in a copy of Colossal Cave and Infocom adventure Deadline.
Next page: Selling the Osborne 1
"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.