Adam Osborne is widely credited with coming up with the first PC that
was designed from the ground up to be portable - the Osborne 1 - in 1982. Arguably it wasn't really
the first because that title could probably go to the IBM 5100 from 1976, however the 5100 wasn't really
portable at a portly 52lbs and expensive at well over $15,000.
Perhaps surprisingly Osborne was previously a technical writer and the man behind the
Osborne Publishing company you may remember from the 70s, producing easily readable books about microprocessors. When
the publishing company was bought by McGraw Hill he became a journalist writing a weekly column called 'From The Fountainhead'
and was asked to give out awards at trade fairs. I remember a tale that at one of these trade fairs someone was
talking to him about portable computers and how they'd never happen so after an hour he went round telling everyone
Osborne Computer Company would deliver!
He hired ex-Intel man Lee Felsenstein to design the machine, and there's a school of thought that a
prototype portable word processor at Xerox PARC called The Notetaker was prime inspiration.
A decision was made to use the same 5" display that the IBM 5100 used purely because they were
available in quantity - even in 1982 a screen that size was considered small. Storage was via a pair of full size 5.25"
floppy drives and there were the usual serial ports and a printer port.
Another first when the Osborne 1 was released was that it came with a suite of applications. Normally back then
you bought a computer and then had to buy the things you needed to make it do anything other than beep or display an A>
prompt. Most machines of the day came with Microsoft BASIC but the Osborne also came with CBASIC and the most popular word processing
program WordStar. Osborne also commissioned a spreadsheet program called SuperCalc which eventually
became a successful standalone product.
Osborne portables sold in their tens of thousands making the company the fastest developing in Silicon Valley. However
Osborne made the mistake of announcing two further machines before they were available meaning sales of the Osborne 1 dried up almost
overnight and the company went bankrupt later in 1983. This marketing phenomenon is known today as 'The Osborne Effect'. The extra machines
did eventually materialise - the Executive and the Vixen. The machine I have is the Executive which has a bigger screen and could take
a hard drive in place of one of the half-height floppies.
I was given this machine by Alan Hanks and his daughter Vikki several years ago, and with it came a box full of technical
documentation, bundled software and even a 'beginners guide to the Osborne' which you could have standing next to you as you took
your first faltering steps with this new little powerhouse of CP/M goodness! Thanks Alan!