Osborne!

The machine, the man, and the dawn of the portable computing revolution.

By  |  Friday, April 1, 2011 at 6:45 am

Notebooks. Netbooks. Smartphones. Tablets. In 2011, the default state of personal computing is mobile–traditional desktop PCs are still with us, but they’ve become the outliers.

It wasn’t always so. In their earliest days, in fact, PCs weren’t primarily deskbound; they were entirely deskbound. The notion that you might be able to carry one wherever your work took you was a radical thought.

That changed on April 3rd, 1981 when a startup called Osborne Computer Corporation announced the Osborne 1 at the West Coast Computer Faire at San Francisco’s Brooks Hall. It was the first true mass-produced portable PC and one of the most popular computers of its time. That makes this Sunday, April 3rd, 2011, as good a day to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of portable computing as any–and to remember Adam Osborne, the company’s founder.

Today, Osborne is most famous for having failed. The conventional wisdom is that his company nosedived into bankruptcy after he announced new computers before they were ready, leading customers to stop buying the Osborne 1–a blunder that’s known as “the Osborne Effect” and which comes up to this day when tech companies announce upcoming products prematurely (or, like Apple, refuse to do so).

The conventional wisdom about Osborne Computer’s demise is wrong–more about that later on–but it is true that the company went from being described as possibly having “the steepest sales slope of any company” by analyst (and eventual Compaq chairman) Ben Rosen to bankruptcy in slightly over a year and a half. It remains one of the most sobering case studies in Silicon Valley history.

“There were three major people in the industry: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Adam Osborne, and not necessarily in that order.”

–David Bunnell

But while failure is part of the Osborne story, it’s not the whole story. It’s not even the most significant part of it. For one thing, the details on Osborne Computer Company’s rise are at least as interesting as its fall. For another, Adam Osborne did a lot of stuff besides name a popular computer after himself. He founded the first significant company devoted to publishing books about microcomputers. He was a hugely influential tech pundit. And after Osborne Computer fell apart, he founded another company that also collapsed–but not before helping to pioneer the idea of really cheap software.

The fact that a leading computer journalist started making computers sounds weird today–and Osborne’s gambit has no other parallels in tech history except for the more recent misadventure known as the CrunchPad. But with Adam Osborne, the leap from telling the industry what to do to actually doing it wasn’t that huge. It was the sort of thing you’d expect him to do.

“He was a God,” says David Bunnell, who served as managing editor of Osborne’s publishing company after having worked on the first personal computer at MITS alongside Bill Gates and Paul Allen and before founding PC Magazine, PC World, Macworld, and other publications. “I tell people that in those days there were three major people in the industry: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Adam Osborne, and not necessarily in that order. He had a huge following.”

Osborne’s Odyssey

Unlike Silicon Valley natives such as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Adam Osborne had to travel 8,000 from his birthplace to land in the heart of the early PC business. Born in 1939 in Bangkok, Thailand, to a Polish mother and a British father, he spent World War II in Tiruvannamalai, a small village in India outside of Madras. (His parents were followers of a local maharishi.) He relocated to England at the age of eleven, where he entered the English school system and graduated from Birmingham University with a degree in chemical engineering.

Osborne followed the girlfriend he’d later marry to the United States, then spent the 1960s stumbling from unhappy engineering job to unhappy engineering job. He ended up in the Bay Area at Shell Oil (which, he told the authors of a book called The Computer Entrepreneurs was “Absolute hell!”) and used computers to do mathematical modeling.

“I’m very self-confident. Insufferably so, people tell me.”

–Adam Osborne, quoted in The New York Times, 1982

Frustrated chemical engineer Adam Osborne left Shell in 1971 and quickly reinvented himself as successful technical writer Adam Osborne. He founded Osborne & Associates, a company which started out doing documentation and began publishing books about microcomputers in an era when hardly anyone had even heard of microcomputers; his best-known tome was 1975’s An Introduction to Microcomputers, which was actually a guide to microprocessors. It sold 300,000 copies, he later said, and went through multiple editions into the 1980s. The business’s success led to a buyout by technical publishing behemoth McGraw-Hill in May 1979. (One month before, it had also purchased BYTE magazine.)

By then, Osborne was both a publisher and a pundit. In 1976, he had begun writing “From the Fountainhead,” a column for Interface Age, an early computer magazine; he decamped to InfoWorld in 1980 and brought the column with him. The fountainhead in question was supposedly Silicon Valley rather than Osborne himself, but the title captured the feel of the column, which was largely devoted to Osborne’s proclamations on matters related to the nascent personal-computer industry. He criticized major computer companies. He sniped at competitors such as Carl Helmers, editor of BYTE. He even blasted InfoWorld itself. He was, in short, the original cranky computer columnist.

Osborne’s self-confidence exuded off the page. In person, the effect was magnified. “He had a certain commanding presence, a regalness,” remembers David Bunnell. John C. Dvorak, Osborne’s friend and collaborator–who became the best-known, longest-serving practitioner of  the type of technology column Osborne pioneered–says “he was a slightly bigger-than-life persona and played off the fact the was tall and could lord it over people.”

The exotic voice helped, too. “I don’t even know what a colonialist accent is,” Dvorak says, “but he had it in spades.”

Here’s rare audio (courtesy of Dan Bricklin) of Osborne at the 1980 West Coast Computer Faire, a year before the Osborne 1 launch, where he gave out his Chip of the Year award (to the Z-8000) and White Elephant award (to Bricklin and Bob Frankston for creating Visicalc):

http://www.technologizer.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/whiteelephant80nr-ra.mp3|animation=no

After he sold his publishing business to McGraw-Hill, Osborne stayed on for a time as general manager. But he also formed a company on the side, which he named Brandywine Holdings–the beginning of the business that became Osborne Computer Corporation.

Portable Prehistory

PARC's NoteTaker, a great-granddaddy of the concept that became the Osborne 1.

The Osborne 1 may have been the first full-fledged portable PC to hit the market, but it wasn’t unprecedented. In fact, the idea of a computer in a sewing machine-like case with a keyboard built into the lid had been kicking around the industry for years. In 1976, Xerox’s fabled PARC had built a prototype called the NoteTaker that used the design. (It never went on sale, and at 48 pounds weighed nearly twice as much as the Osborne 1 would.) James Murez filed for a patent on an extremely Osbornesque case design in 1979, which the Patent Office approved in 1982.

A distinctly Osbornian drawing from James Murez's 1979 patent filing.

Lee Felsenstein, who designed the Osborne 1, has theorized that Adam Osborne may have borrowed the basic concept from a proposal that Apple employees Trip Hawkins (later to found Electronic Arts) and Blair Newman failed to sell to Steve Jobs. And a handful of “portable computers” such as Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Pocket Computer of 1980 were already on the market, although they were really more akin to souped-up calculators than full-fledged PCs.

Osborne began putting together Osborne Computer Corporation while he was still running his publishing firm for its new owner, McGraw-Hill. “He was working there in the morning and then going off in the afternoon to his computer company,” remembers Bunnell. He bankrolled the startup with $100,000 of his profits from the Osborne & Associates sale and a $40,000 investment by venture capitalist Jack Melchor; found office space in Hayward, California; and signed up Felsenstein–an instigator of Silicon Valley’s fabled Homebrew Computer Club and the designer of a well-regarded early PC called the SOL-20–to design the machine.

Osborne 1 designer Lee Felsenstein.

The first designs that Osborne and Felsenstein fiddled with were for conventional desktop computers, but Osborne eventually decided that the company’s product would be a portable PC. The Osborne 1 had a Z-80 processor (like Radio Shack’s TRS-80 and many other early systems) and a generous-for-the-time 64KB of RAM. It had two single-density floppy-disk drives, each of which stored a relatively skimpy 102KB of data, plus a handy pocket for extra disks. And it ran Digital Research’s CP/M, the popular operating system that was very much like Microsoft’s later MS-DOS.

Even by 1981 standards, the Osborne 1’s 5″ monochrome CRT was puny; today, there are smartphones with displays as big. It could display only 52 columns of text at a time–less than the eighty you really wanted for word processing, but more than the Apple II’s forty. The screen size was chosen in part because 5″ displays were readily available, having been engineered for a 55-pound behemoth that IBM had optimistically marketed in 1975 as the IBM 5100 Portable Computer.

The Osborne 1. Image from Wikipedia.

Before the machine went on the market, Bunnell recalls, Osborne “brought in an Osborne 1 and plunked it down on my desk and said ‘We’re going to be using these.’ It was absolutely terrible at first. It had a small screen but the word processor was eighty columns, so the screen would shift back and forth. But he wanted us all to use his computer.”

The sewing machine-sized Osborne 1 weighed 24 pounds (slightly more than ten modern-day 11″ MacBook Airs) and sported a handle; it created a class of PC that would forever be known as “luggables.” It was famously touted as fitting under an airplane seat, but you couldn’t actually use it on an airplane–not only because you would have busted your tray table, but also because it had no battery. Just getting it from place to place involved effort. Felsenstein has written that “carrying two of them from my car four blocks to the [West Coast Computer Faire] had nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets.”

The Osborne 1 at 1981's West Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco, where it was the hit of the show.

Some vintage computing devices look clunky in retrospect. The Osborne 1 was widely mocked as ungainly from the moment it was announced. TIME, in a June 1983 story on the machine and its growing army of imitators, called its “graceless” design “a cross between a World War II field radio and a shrunken instrument panel of a DC-3.”

Among the Osborne 1’s bluntest critics was…Adam Osborne. “We’re producing a machine whose performance is merely adequate when compared to the competition,” he told InfoWorld, sounding like an anti-Steve Jobs content to leave reality undistorted. “It is not the fastest microcomputer, it doesn’t have huge amounts of disk space, and it is not especially expandable.”

Designer Felsenstein, not surprisingly, bristled at Osborne’s emphasis on adequacy. “Adam would use flattery on me (what a su-perb designer I was), then when talking to other audiences use the ‘adequacy is sufficient, everything else is irrelevant’ bon mot,” he says. “I would smile inwardly and think that he had no idea what it took to bring this ‘adequacy’ about…After the fall, Adam wrote that any of 500 designers could have designed the Osborne 1. It would have been lumpier, slower, more expensive –and it would have met the same fate.”

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31 Comments For This Post

  1. Steven Sinofsky Says:

    Thanks Harry! I lugged this machine to college–it practically took up my whole dorm room!! It also ran my parent's entire business using dBase. The 300b modem and fidonet made for quite the connection to the "world" :-)

  2. The_Heraclitus Says:

    A few years later I had the Compaq clone to this one. It was amazing to be able to use the same machine at work & home.

  3. pragmatist Says:

    While there is little doubt that cash flow was a huge part of what happened there, I think that there is more to the story. For one thing, clearly the "Osborne Effect" is real. It certainly didn't help the situation, and if dealers really did cancel orders, it had to have made the problem far worse.

    There are, I think, another two issues as well. One is the idea (which we have seen with other companies) that you can easily move top executives from one industry to another. Sometimes it works, but clearly it didn't work here. The pricing on the "executive" was stupid enough that I can't dismiss the description of Jaunich's tenure as being filled with "terrible and stupid decisions" and the decision to appoint him as really bad, as sour grapes. The wrong top executive, making a string of bad decisions can bring even a company with a healthy cash flow to its knees.

    Last, but not least, is the fact that Osborne (both the man and the company) refused to move with the market. The original Osborne was revolutionary. But, staying primarily with CP/M and not quickly offering compelling updated hardware at competitive pricing meant that things would have crashed. It's hard to make the argument that they didn't move because of the cash flow problems – they DID introduce new models. They just didn'tintroduce models that anyone would want to buy, but they refused to see that.

  4. Owen Linderholm Says:

    Thanks for that Harry, I met Adam right after I moved to the Bay Area when I was working at Computer Currents and we had a good chat about all kinds of things. He was a little bitter but very encouraging to me as someone new to the Valley. He was very much larger than life and wanted to talk about non-tech things more than anything else. I remember that we talked about him moving to India so that must have been coming up. But he didn't talk about health problems.

  5. CMF Says:

    FYI – about 15 years ago, I bought a brand new Osborne, from a dealer who was closing. I have it in storage; complete with all the software, canvas case, and original literature.

    I also have a few Actrix "portables". Originally called Actrix Matrix. A cool machine with a 360 baud internal & external modem (acoustic cups). Has a built-in Epson FX 80 printer, 2 floppy discs & 7" monochrome screen. Also have a TRS 80 & a Sinclair.

    CMF

  6. Larsen E Whipsnade Says:

    After the ZX80 and the Apple II, here was a machine that I could use to earn a living. The Osborne quickly helped me to learn spreadsheets, word-processing, and databases with dBaseII. With this one box, I had broken through the limitations of Basic, and there was no stopping after that. I even managed to attach a Trantor 5mb hard-drive onto my Osborne. I've got good memories of those days!

  7. Jonathan Says:

    When I think portable computers of the time I think Timex Sinclair. I think I still have one in the attic somewhere.

  8. Walter Jeffries Says:

    I had one. Still have it. Somewhere. And an Exidy Sorcerer, Mac128K, MacPlus, MacSE and even a PDP11 mini. Oh, and an HP-71B and a sliderule that are hanging on my wall right here. Incase of power outages. :)

  9. The_Heraclitus Says:

    Wow! A PDP-11. That brings back memories.

  10. Dave Mathews Says:

    Great homage Harry! This was my first computer, and I loved the 300 baud (not the speed, but the design) modem that would slide into a floppy (back when they were) disk pocket as an integrated unit.

    When I was 14 I hired a young programmer to port his Kaypro BBS program to my Osborne, so that I could show sponsored ads when people called into my system – to offset the cost of the phone line. In these days the CP/M operating system was not the same from computer to computer – as the registers were different based upon the motherboard configurations. Even though the Z-80 chips were the same under the hood most software and floppy disks were not portable. This was the first time that this young hobbiest programmer was paid for his work as a developer. That programmer was Dave Moellenhoff, CTO and co-founder of San Francisco-based Salesforce.com. If only I would have invested that $100 in his company, but showing him that he could get paid for his then hobby is a proud and inspirational moment in life that I can look back to.

    I too have a bit of respect posted on my page for the Ozzy. Her 83k floppies and 176k double density upgrade were packed to the gills with public domain software!

    My respect to Adam, a man who was indeed larger than life at 6" something! When I met him at 15 at Computerland in St. Louis, Missouri he towered above everyone.

    I still have it, and have a serial to Ethernet adapter that I will put The Missing Link BBS up on the Internet again someday. Now, I don't have to worry about the cost of that phone line… Boy have times changed. http://davemathews.com/osborne.html

  11. Forrest MacGregor Says:

    I not only owned one in the early 1980's, but when Osborne went belly up, I went around Denver and bought every inventory I could find… software, broken machines, accessories, new units, upgrades, drives, monitors, manuals. I bought it all for about 5 cents on the dollar, and sold it over the coming year at maybe 25-35 cents on the dollar and made 20K or so. The Osborne was the first complete machine, and the early adopter community back then was mostly lawyers and accountants, plus engineers. The lawyers and accountants needed support, and had significant investments in their machines. I had a deal where I would charge no more than $100 plus parts to repair one. No fix, no charge. Breaks again? I fix it for free. I was overwhelmed and it added to my salary at the local rocket company I worked at rather nicely. I put a lot of miles on those things, and fondly remember the experience and the product, which was pretty well done, IMO.

    Worth noting.. the early adopters were all taken by the time that the Kaypro came out, and they were the machines of choice for students, homemakers, and second tier professionals. The dynamics of the market changed, and I left Denver anyway to pursue my engineering career, but I use this experience to illustrate to people what a little risk, small capital, and timing can do for your income/self-employment dreams. RIP, Adam O. I think you and your company rocked.

  12. Harry McCracken Says:

    I always wanted an Exidy Sorcerer..

  13. Minogaade Says:

    Yes! Bundling dBase was heaven for me–the bundled software was unbelievably powerful for its day. I know, I'd bought an IBM selectric typewriter the year before, just to have access to variable fonts.

  14. Scott Mace Says:

    I covered the introduction of the Tandy Model 100 for InfoWorld during a trip around Texas in 1983, and by the time I got to Ft. Worth, the Osborne 1 I had lugged from InfoWorld had died and instead I wrote and filed my news story on a borrowed Model 100.

  15. Bob Stepno Says:

    Thanks for this, harry. I'm writing on a screen about half the size of my old osborne — a Droid . but I'm using this speech to text to save my eyes and create amusing typos I was 1 of about 40 faculty members and grad students who bought osborne ones at wesleyan university in 1982 after the university put some faculty ideal personal computer specs out to bid.

    The case keyboard and small screen looked a lot like a portable terminal people have been using at the hartford courant for a couple years. I think it had a cassette tape drive built in and was compatible with the newspaper's atex system. Teleram?

    At wesleyan the software bundle was the primary selling point for the osborne. I recall an apple too if you added to floppy drives and all of that software would have come and add easily double the price we paid for the osborne dbaseII supercalc wordstar mbasic cbasic , the original adventure game mychess and I forget what all else

    By that time december 1982 when we took delivery the bundle also included an external monitor which would double the 52 columns screen making 104 columns great for spreadsheets, double density disk drives and a 300 baud modem… or maybe the modem was extra.

    I do remember that the computer center hacked together cables we could use to plug an osborne directly into the d e c 20 mainframe as a terminal and do file transfers. Doing document conversion transfers between our mainframe editor and wordstar was another thing.

    I also went to work for the university av wizard Bob White, who physically hacked the insides of 24 inch classroom tv monitors. I recall the trick involved cutting some sheet metal rolling it into 8 tube and putting it over the back end of the picture tube. (Ymmv)

    I became editor of the wesleyan osborne group newsletter And shared the osborne in a lab to get a discount on a 1983 summer computer course at wesleyan with the amazing russ walter of "secrets guide to computers" fame . ..starting me on the way to a second masters and my 1986-88 hypertext research.

    Russ's courses and the newsletter plus some other how to things I had written for the Wes computer center got me my first job in the computer industry 1984 at MultiMate–also due for a 30th anniv soon) ultimately leading to working for you at IDG

    So it's all thanks to adam. :-)

  16. Kathleen M. Barnard Says:

    Interesting site. I bought an Osborne when I retired from teaching in 1982. As I recall, a month later the Company went into bankruptcy. (The article indicates that it was 1983 before the compay was in that situation?) At any rate I had purchased from Dayton's in St Paul. I called and they told me they would take over the guarantee offered by the Osborne. Which they did until I replaced the "Ozzie" (my name for it) with a hmmm____now I can;'t remember!

    "Ozzie" got a lot of use from our son in college and my volunteer work on things like a membership committee (records kept on paper lists and paper cards and in three locations!), newsletters–I belonged to a lot of things. Amazing the amount of information and work you can do with just two little floppies–even more with the 3' successor!.

    However in 2006 we had to condense a five bedroom house (with full basement) into a two bedroom apartment–so lots of things had to go!

    "Ozzie" and our son's Kaypro are now somewhere in the BSan Francisco Bay area with an electrical engineer who was interested enough to pay transportation. (I couldn't bear "putting Ozzie down" by sending him to the dump–and the closet floor dind't care–it would support anything placed there without complaining.

    But the replacement was a Windows machine–and I struggled with those (Yes, I had to reinstall and defrag and all those things and wait for the blankety blank window to open again!) until January of 2010 when at age 89, I finally got smart enough to take my grandson's advice and purchase an IMac. And now I'm set up with a wreless net and a Macbook for portability. (ANd currently swearing at all the passwords I'm expected to remember!

    Interesting magazine you are publishing. I shall look forward to reading it–if I ever figure out how to subscribe!
    Cheers!
    Kathleen M. Barnard,

  17. Norm Says:

    I loved VP Planner 3D – everything Lotus 123 was plus a great deal more. 3 dimensional spreadsheets you could rotate! Easy installation off of one floppy. Virtual memory (made a difference when all you had was 640K) Multiple graphs on the same page. much more.

    It was a great injustice, imo, when they were litigated out of business by Lotus.

    imo

    Norm

  18. dan Says:

    I loved my Osborne (I think it was an Osborne 2). I also had a Kaypro (got it out of a dumpster, fixed a broken wire, and used it for two years). My Compaq rounded out the set. I also had a Timex Sinclair, but to be honest, I did not use it much.

    In many businesses is seems the early pioneers died blazing the trail. The same spirit that made them go forward into the wild made them vulnerable as well.

  19. Bill Says:

    I bought my Osbourne in March of 1983 and what really made the deal so sweet was the bundled Dbase program. Back then you had to make your own programs to print labels for mass mailing … it beat the old "address-o-graph machines" … or making your own labels using a copy machine, wax paper, and spray adhesive backing then cutting them in strips. It was an incredible leap because this computer did something that was unheard of — sort on zip codes! It was a dream come true. Wonderful memories!!!!

  20. SuperG Says:

    What heady days those were.

    My dad was the primary developer of SuperCalc and was one of the people who worked the booth at the Osbourne's initial demo at the WCCF. They stayed up all night the night before getting the units ready. They found that the knobs that manipulated the brightness and horiz/vertical control broke easily. They glued the knobs to McDonald's straws which were in turn glued the display board and they made it through the show. I got to hang out at the booth and cruise the floors of the show. It was awesome.

    They couldn't spring for a booth in the Civic Auditorium like Apple. But, they had the first booth at the bottom of the stairs from the auditorium leading into Brooks Hall.

    My dad still had one of the demo units for years. I think he eventually donated it to a museum or something. But, I'd hack up cbasic programs on it. In the Spring of 82, I wrote an 8th grade history paper in WordStar printed on an Epson printer about Robert Oppenheimer.

  21. Harry McCracken Says:

    Great stuff!

    –Harry

  22. G R Balleisen Says:

    Nice piece and great research. You seem to have interviewed a number of the right people who were either intimately involved (Lee) or aware of the history (all the press guys). Adam and his invention was a seminal part of the PC/ micro-computing evolution whose impact is still apart of the DNA of current technology.

    I still have one of the original six prototypes that were shown at the WCCF and after reading this article, I dragged it out and amazingly it fired right up and booted after 30 years…a feat Adam hadn't included in the original product plan…

    BTW, the knobs that were hot-glued with drinking straws are alow still in place

  23. dholyer Says:

    I remember the Osborne 1 starting the mobile computing industry. I actually enter the field in 1986 when I traded my Atari 800XL system in for a NEC laptop. I converted all my floppys to 3.5" disks that the NEC had two of. And in IBM PC format. My Atari had software to use a 3.5" floppy and format an write PC format disks. I may not have been able to use the software going from 8bit to 16/32bit but the data (or to me the inportant stuff) did move.

  24. jas Says:

    Our Osborne 1 brought me kicking and screaming into home computing. We bought one "to help me" type my husband's PhD dissertation. I did that, and became so addicted to the durn thing that I lugged it on the airplane (with a baby and two children under 6 years) from NY to TX on vacation…by myself! I will never forget all the tips and dirty tricks learned from user group magazines, and the thrill of seeing words flash across that dinky screen the first time I connected with a BBS via 300 baud modem. All I ever learned about relating to computers I learned from Ozzy. Thanks for the memories.

  25. Bill Says:

    Still have my 2nd generation 01 that I bought in 1982 after graduate school (present to myself). My first job was compiling survey results for my father's work using SuperCalc. My wife also used the O1 for law school and still teases me about the 52 column screen. The machine is in my home office closet in the original box with all software, manuals (even the tech manual), purchase receipt and external monitor.

  26. Eric Says:

    What a great read, this was truly an entertaining article.
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  28. Bohdan Steplewski Says:

    I read the article with special interest – I met Adam Osborne while being a foreign exchange student at Delaware University, Newark DE. We became quite close friends, and my wife and myself visited Adam in !975 and 1982 while keeping in touch till the very end of his life (still have his last letters from India).
    He was a visionary, leaping forward into future and overtaking his contemporaries by two lengths., with razor sharp bright mind. Always full of optimism that allowed him to find the way to overtake any technical obstacle.
    Pity we lost him so early.

  29. Julien Says:

    Nice read! I am glad I stumbled upon it.

  30. DW Smith Says:

    I originally purchased my Osborne 1 in 1983 for $1795 from a ‘Xerox’ computer store on Lawrence Expressway near Central Expressway in Silicon Valley. I had to learn ‘programming’ to be able to qualify for the job I wanted in support at Tandem Computers. The O1, Turbo Pascal, and a few classes at Foothill College got me there, and I thank Adam for making it possible. I actually met Adam once at a ‘swap meet’ where he was selling software at a table surrounded by others selling ‘shareware’ and other games. This was probably in the mid 80s, and he wasn’t a happy camper. But I was in awe.

    After the bankruptcy, I attended their ‘auction’ at the factory, and was able to win two O1s for about $300 each. There were rows of tables with computers and auction numbers to choose from. I helped my uncle and his ‘TechniPubs’ business go digital with the DSDD, 80 column unit I bought at the auction.

    In the mid 1990s, I tried to sell my Osborne at a garage sale. My uncle had moved on to a PC too, and added his to the sale: 1 for $20, 2 for $10. No takers. I remember taking my O1 and carefully sitting it on the top of a pile at the dump. A guy in an orange rubber suit walked by and picked it up, probably thinking it was a sewing machine. I hope it got recycled.

    I now teach computer programming at a community college. I decided to try to get an O1 working to demo Turbo Pascal to one of my classes this year. Ebay provided the hardware, the web provided disk images, Dave Dunfield (RIP) provided the software to cut Osborne disks on an old DOS box, and I now have 2 O1s and 2 Execs running CP/M, Wordstar, Turbo Pascal and Supercalc. I have to say I prefer the 7″ screen on the Execs.

    The second Exec I got on ebay came with ALL of the original books and disks. It also has a very detailed set of technical manuals for programmers. One of the books even includes the full ROM listings in assembly language with comments!

    Thanks for the story, and I thank Osborne for my career(s). RIP Adam, you changed my life.

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