Osborne 1 – 1981
By Osborne Computer Corporation
Released in June 1981 by the
Osborne Computer Corporation, the Osborne 1 is considered to be the first true portable, full-featured computer.
It includes all the components required to be a completely useful and operational computer system:
What makes it portable, or more often described as luggable, is that everything is in one package, easily transported from one
location to another by simply unplugging the power, attaching the keyboard to the front of the system, and being on your way.
The leather carrying handle on the back is a classy touch.
Adam Osborne, the founder of Osborne Computer Company,
enlisted Lee Felsenstein, who also
designed the Processor Technology Sol-20 computer five years earlier in 1976, to design the Osborne 1 computer.
Read Lee’s blog at http://fonly.typepad.com for
information and insight on his days at Osborne Computer Company.
While exciting and unique, the Osborne 1 does have its limitations. For example, at 24.5 pounds (11 kg), the system is not light-weight by any means,
and the screen is only 5″ (diagonal) in size and can’t display more than 52 characters per line of text. Adam Osborne said that the small screen was chosen
to keep the overall system as small as possible, but that he later regretted that decision. Additionally, 5-inch screens were readily available, as IBM
used them in their IBM 5100 Portable Computer from 1975.
The Osborne 1 portable computer wasn’t intended to be high performance or revolutionary – it was meant to
be ‘good enough’. Adam Osborne’s philosophy was that
“better is the enemy of good – adequacy is sufficient and everything else is irrelevant”. And his opinion of the Osborne 1 computer?
“Merely adequate – it is not the fastest microcomputer, it doesn’t have huge amounts of disk storage space, and it is not especially expandable.”
The Osborne 1 was first unveiled to the public at the March 1981 6th West Coast Computer Faire and May 1981
National Computer Conference.
too expensive to manufacture. Galgon Industries in Hayward CA had produced ten metal cases for the first run of prototypes.
While the Osborne 1 was a good deal at $1,795, it also came bundled with about $1,500 of free software:
Osborne was able to include this software at no actual cost to the company – the software providers were
given stock in the Osborne Computer Company in exchange for their software license.
A person could purchase an Osborne 1 computer, take it home, turn it on, and start working immediately.
Everything was included.
The Osborne 1 computer was a huge overnight success – in September 1981, OCC had its first
The Osborne Computer Company (OCC) grew to over 3,000 employees and $73 million in revenue in just 12 months, with sales reaching
10,000 units a month.
In 1982, a Double-Density Disk Drive Option was released, which allows twice as much data to be stored per floppy disk.
It is comprised of an additional circuit board which must be installed inside the system. It recognizes these data formats:
In 1983, the “Screen Pac” internally-installed display upgrade allowed an external monitor to be plugged into a front-mounted RCA jack,
to allow a full 80×24 or 104×24 text display.
In 1982, the Osborne Computer Company (OCC) announced a successor, the Executive model OCC-2
(seen here to the right), with a larger 7-inch 80×24 screen, twice as much RAM memory, and double-density
floppy drives as standard. It was also more expensive at $2,495.
Shortly thereafter, they announced the next system, the Vixen, an even smaller, lighter,
cheaper, portable system, still running the CP/M operating system.
Unfortunately, potential customers stopped buying the Osborne 1, waiting for the Executive and the
Vixen, which wasn’t even ready to ship yet.
Additionally, the new Kaypro II was now available with a huge 9-inch screen for
less money. Osborne sales plummeted and OCC quickly ran out of money and filed for bankruptcy in September of 1983.
Unintentionally killing current sales by pre-announcing future products has since been referred to, perhaps unfairly, as the
There were other factors at play as well – Adam Osborne admitted that in the early days, they had no idea
what they were doing, and that the company was rapidly skyrocketing out of their control.
Subsequent poorly thought-out “executive decisions” also contributed to its demise.
Just one year later, in 1984, Adam Osborne and computer industry author and columnist
John C. Dvorak coauthored a book about the experience,
from Adam Osborne’s point of view, of course –
Hypergrowth: The Rise and Fall of the Osborne Computer Corporation.
In his book, Adam Osborne said that the so-called “Osborne effect” is ficticious, and that he planted that story in the media to explain-away
corporate financial losses and poor sales.
It wasn’t entirely the company’s fault, though, because by this time most of the serious computer users were gravitating towards the new
IBM PC, which had already been available since 1981.
Anything that wasn’t IBM compatible was bound to fail. In 1983, the Compaq Portable came out –
a competing portable computer similar to the Osborne 1, except that it was IBM compatible and ran MS-DOS. It was a great success.
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