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The 30th Anniversary of Osborne Computer 81

harrymcc writes "This Sunday is the thirtieth anniversary of the announcement of the Osborne 1 — the first mass-produced mobile computer. For years, Osborne has been most famous for its failure, traditionally blamed on the company having preannounced new products before they were available. But that's not the whole story — and Adam Osborne, its founder, was a fascinating figure who deserves to be remembered."
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The 30th Anniversary of Osborne Computer

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  • What's really scary is that I remember it!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Farmer Tim ( 530755 )

      What's really scary is that I remember it!

      No, that's just mildly depressing. Scary is when you have an old receipt for one but you don't remember it.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
      I actually had one of those. Amazing machine, for the time. Of course it weighed a ton.
    • I always wanted one too. I never actually had an Osborne however, I finally got a taste of CPM..I see why it died now!
      • died? First version in 1974, to version 3.1 in 1982, then it evolved into DOS PLUS in 1985 and then DR-DOS (1988 - 2005)

        31 years is a pretty good run
    • Remember it? I still OWN one, unfortunately the software was damaged a while back and I haven't been able to replace it.

      • by wowen ( 695189 )
        I still have mine, too. When they were announced, they wanted people to re-sell them. It was a great deal for me. I saved my pennies, got my reseller's paperwork from the city, signed up with Osborne and got my discounted computer (40% discount, as I recall). It was great, the best computer I have ever owned (up to that point). However, I never managed to sell a single unit. Nobody was interested at that point.
    • In 1984 opened a pharmacy servicing mostly welfare recipients and needed a computer to efficiently bill the State for claims, Looked at the Osborne saw it was a dead end and bought a Compaq Portable [] istead. I thought because it was portable I'd be able to take it home to play around with and maybe teach the kids a little coding.. The Compaq was basically the same hardware as an IBM PC but in a luggable case, and I do mean luggable, as John Cleese once compared it to a fish [] with the Compaq weighing i at 28
  • I might have one in my third bedroom / junk room.
  • by glitch! ( 57276 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:50AM (#35692138)

    Back in 1981, I was programming for a company with a 64K CPM computer with a Hazeltine monitor. Life was great.

    And this book writer Adam Osborne, whose motto was "Just good enough", started selling his barely luggable CPM computer with two 5.25 floppy drives and a five inch monitor for something less than two thousand dollars.

    I actually though about buying one of these. Shudder!

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      My uncle had an Osborne that he plugged a TTL monitor into so as to use WordStar in a functional manner. He loved it...

    • Back in 1981, I was programming for a company with a 64K CPM computer with a Hazeltine monitor. Life was great.

      64K in 1981? Holy crap, that was the hotness!

      • by julesh ( 229690 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @03:28AM (#35692424)

        Back in 1981, I was programming for a company with a 64K CPM computer with a Hazeltine monitor. Life was great.

        64K in 1981? Holy crap, that was the hotness!

        Not especially. The basic model IBM PC, launched that year, had 64k expandable to 256. The Apple IIe had launched 2 years earlier with 48k. 64k was probably about average at the time for a proper micro (i.e. not a "home" computer).

        • by bylo ( 1211278 )

          >The basic model IBM PC, launched that year, had 64k expandable to 256

          Nope. The first version of the IBM PC had a motherboard that came with 16k expandable to 64k. See e,g. []

          A revised motherboard used denser chips that allowed for 64k base, expandable to 256k. You could also get adapter boards that would take you to 512k and even 640k (which at the time was all you'd ever need according to a certain visionary of the era.)

          • When we moved last summer, I found from a random box a memory expansion card that you plugged into the ISA bus. Holy latencies, Batman!

          • The TRS-80 Model III had only 48k when introduced in '81, according to It was an all-in-one, as opposed to the TRS-80 Model I, introduced in 1977, which was a keyboard/processor unit. With an expansion interface, it went all the way to 48k. They only ran TRS-DOS and various TRS-DOS workalikes.

            The Lobo Max-80, introduced a year later, went all the way to 128k, which was a lot in those days. Physically it was a lot like the TRS-80 Model 1, but didn't need an expansion interface.It ran eit

        • The Apple IIe had launched 2 years earlier with 48k.

          Apple IIe was launched in 1983 with 64k (expandable to 128k) after Epic Fail of the Apple III. Apple II+ was launched with 4k (expandable to 64k) in 1979.
          According to The Register what doomed Osborne is because of a RETARDED VP decided to throw good money after bad. []

          • I'm having a bit of a problem with this quote of John Dvorak, from the article (this is about NorthStar BASIC):

            you got their OS and their BASIC, which by all accounts was superiror to Microsoft BASIC since it did BCD math which engineers needed.

            Engineers actually it wasn't the engineers who needed the BCD math; engineers understood and generally preferred floating point math. It was accountants who needed BCD math, because it didn't have rounding errors.

            CBasic, from the same people who sold CP/M, used B

        • Considering the IBM ran about 4 grand the Osborn wasn't such a bad deal. I was going to purchase one of the IBMs but the price with a little monitor (12" was big in those days), some expansion memory, and some basic programs was way over $4,000. Closer to $5,000 IIRC. My OSI C2-8P was 4 Grand and I still had to come up with a monitor and keyboard. .. But it did have dual 8" single sided floppies. (160 or 180K I think). Basic ran something like $400 while Fortran and Pascal compilers were $900 each.
    • On a term'nal
      On a twenty
      I sit, waiting for a line
      And my tty (not too pretty)
      Is a crufty Hazeltine
      Oh, my crufty
      Oh, my crufty
      Oh, my crufty Hazeltine
      You have lost my job forever
      You're pathetic, Hazeltine
      Hacking MIDAS
      (Don't deny this!)
      When the load hits forty-nine
      Nothing happens for an hour
      On my crufty Hazeltine
      Oh, my crufty
      Oh, my crufty
      Oh, my crufty Hazeltine
      You do not help my endeavor
      You're a sad sight, Hazeltine
      To get help
      When hacking EMAC
    • I had the use of one. (Company I worked for had one) and thought it was a good rig for what was available at the time.
  • It was a deader, and I finally solved a power supply problem just to find out it was more than that. I never got it running.

    But it was a lot of fun to leave around for people to ask about. Then I snagged a Kaypro that actually worked. That was nice.

    Alas, I've pretty much gotten rid of the collection.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      The 9" screen on the KayPro was a dream to use. Really sharp and easy on the eyes. Much better than the Hercules on PCs, and compared to it, CGA was worse than bush league.

  • I still have mine sitting in an extra bedroom. Turn it on once every 5 years or so just to make sure that it's still running.

    Ran WordStar and SuperCalc, and managed to get DBase II for it. Program disk in the left, data disk in the right. When it hit 10 years old it started munching diskette directories on writes infrequently, rendering them unusable. Have the 300 baud modem, too, which I used to connect to the university mainframe during undergrad. Uploading programs sometimes took a half-hour or more

    • Was totally adequate at the time, but started pining for that newfangled Apple Macintosh thingy when that came out.

      For getting real work done at the time you were way better off with an Osborne or a Kaypro [], or one of the many competitors. The typical software bundles shipped with CP/M machines at the time (word processor, database, spreadsheet, programming language, etc.), relatively easy telecommunications, wide choice of printers, and typical 2 disk drive configuration made them far more useful than the typical Macintosh configuration (unless you were doing graphics). The two advantages of the Macintosh were doing g

  • I own one (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NiceGeek ( 126629 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @01:41AM (#35692238)

    Well, to be precise, I own the 2nd model - the "Osborne Executive" with the slightly larger, amber monitor.
    The old girl still fires up, I found the system software years before I came across the computer itself. Totally impractical and useless but I still enjoy firing up Zork on it to impress my fellow geeks.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Most genuine comment here.

      Yes you have us fellow geeks also...


  • by gavron ( 1300111 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @01:42AM (#35692240)

    Look it's great to be nostalgic.

    Adam Osborne named the company and the computer after himself.

    It barely ran, weighed lots, and had no capacity to do anything useful. A TRS-80 Model II was more powerful. Kaypro (mentioned by a previous poster) also was good. Sadly it was a big heavy suitcase that barely fit "under the seat in front of you". Oh, and it sucked.

    I'm sorry Adam Osborne had a great idea that was not technologically feasible for another 10 years. In today's era he'd have patented the concept and a NPE would be holding the rights to it and suing the likes of Dell, Acer, and every other dog with a portable. "Method by which the computer can be operated without mains(sic) power." lol. But he didn't. He did nothing fascinating. He is not a fascinating guy. He's a guy who had an idea (that lots of us have) and the tech wasn't there to perform as he expected.

    Revisionism is cute... but deifying someone who accomplished nothing extraordinary and somehow making it like there's some "fascination" with the guy... that's going a bit far.

    I find shiny object and helicopters fascinating. I don't expect a tell-all book anytime soon.

    Mods, mod something else.


    • by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @01:57AM (#35692264)

      Apropos of that, see []

            Jobs was a bit of a dick but, he was mostly right...

    • You forgot to mention the complete lack of shielding. One guy with an Osborne could prevent a whole Ramada Inn full of people from watching TV. Literally.
    • by jfengel ( 409917 )

      Barely ran? It ran great. The thing was incredibly reliable. WordStar was a great word processor, including the ability to edit documents bigger than RAM. What you saw was what you got, at least as long as you printed it that old workhorse Epson MX-80. Plus, it came with the computer, along with SuperCalc, a perfectly passable spreadsheet. I was able to manage local-scale databases (address lists, that sort of thing). It was "luggable" rather than "portable", but I did take it places and it was a he

      • But it was a hell of a computer at the time. I wouldn't be here without it.

        Hmm... I suppose it was heavy enough that you could have used it as a weapon to save your life from an attacker.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        It was a very popular computer for a while. The software that came with it was great and at the time there really where no laptops yet. To put it in perspective it would be as if someone offered a good i5 laptop today with Windows 7 ultimate and Office Professional for $600. When Kaypro came out with there systems they offered the an equally as good software bundle.

    • by mspohr ( 589790 )
      Actually, this was a "state of the art" computer at the time and was quite functional. It was much better than the TRS-80 (aka Trash 80) which I purchased before the Osborne. (I also had an Apple II and Apple /// - which really was trash - along with many other early computers - Commodore PET anyone?). The Osborne was the first one which was not a toy. I purchased an Osborne and started programming a complex electronic medical record and medical billing program (with the included dBase) which later turn
  • Actually, (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2011 @01:47AM (#35692254)

    The hardware wasn't anything special. It was okay, and just barely managed to pull off a 'first', and was quickly superseded by better computers in that fast-moving time.

    What was really interesting about the first Ossy was you got nearly all the big CP/M apps bundled with the computer -- for what was really a fair price for the computer OR those apps. It was a 2 for 1 deal, and I think that was probably the swiftest maneuver Adam Osborne did.

    Disclaimer: I've got an Ossy in the closet, with an equal weight of manuals and floppies. It's also the only computer I've ever bought that came with complete wiring diagrams. Fun kit.

    • What was really interesting about the first Ossy was ...

      So, seriously - they named the computer the Ossy Osborne??

  • First thing that came to my mind was cow skin box's for computers.

    Not sure why but.
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @02:36AM (#35692342)

    I bought an Apple ][+
    Now that woz a good computer

  • Hey it wasn't about Adam Osborne. It was about the geek revolution you bozos. This was the first -FIRST- computer designed by and for geeks. Adam Osborne was the sales guy. Had standardized ports, parts, etc. and as a previous poster mentioned it came with a wiring diagram. You could hook it up to anything else that existed in the day. Couldn't do that w/IBM, Apple, OR KAYPRO. Lots of jokes about Osbornes but I knew several engineers that brought them on site to the field and then lugged them back to the of
    • Huh?

      The I/O on the Osborne 1 was an RS-232C port and a (proprietary pinout) parallel port that had IEEE-488 and I believe Centronics capability.

      Kaypro had the same I/O capabilities, IBM had the same I/O capabilities with an add-on card for RS-232C and Centronics parallel (and, we're talking about the IBM PC here, EVERYTHING was available as an add-on card, the IBM PC was the "industry standard" in ISA (Industry Standard Architecture)), and the Apple II could do it with three add-on cards - a Super Serial Ca

      • You answered for me. The IBM and Apple were all add ons - and not portable. Yes it was a Centronics/488 port on the Osborne. The difference with the Kaypro was the OS - much easier on the Osborne - documented and software to accomplish it. I suppose I should say instead 'The first COMPLETE (software and hardware out of the box) geekbuilt computer. Read the history of it - the thing was designed and built by garage geeks. They famously couldn't build them fast enough at launch. Every other manufacturer had
    • The "first computer designed by and for geeks" would be in the 1970s. We could argue about which one that was, I'd go with the MITS Altair 8800
  • Ah, the good ole days! My first computer was a Compaq portable with a V20 chip, external memory card, 2 floppy drives and a whopping 2 megabyte RLL hard drive, external 2400 baud modem!
  • My dad had one of these, and when I went off to MSU in 1983, it became mine. With Wordstar, huge electric typewriter with a centronics interface that was the printer, and a 9 inch external monochrome monitor and I was hooked up.

    My girlfriend wrote a paper on it, forgot to or didn't know to save to the second floppy and lost it. She might have been the among the first college students in the world to suffer this fate.

  • One of the best things about the Osborne was the User Groups. The enthusiasm was amazing. I haven't seen anything close since.

  • Actually, I still have a Kaypro II from that era. It lights up, but I've long since lost the boot disk. I also have a SORD M5. This still works like new. I remembered how much I wanted an Osborne 1. I has a Morrow Designs S-100 CP/M system and was just amazed you could make a portable.

  • Does it prattle incoherently for a while, then curse you out randomly, and bite the heads off your discs?

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. -- Bill Vaughn