Today’s laptops live up to their name. These are lightweight and powerful features that are popular when working or playing from anywhere. However, this has not always been the case. The birth of this type of computer is almost parallel to the massification of the first personal computers which, of course, were not essentially portable, but designed to be used on the desktop.
However, at the time of the nascent concept of personal computing, there were already those who thought about the mobile computing concept. I invite you to travel to the late 70’s and early 80’s. If you are passionate about computer history, you might agree that in 1977 the personal computer industry really began to take off.
What other personal computers had been launched before? Yes, certainly, and a lot. proposals such as the Kenbak-1 and the Altair 8800, but were primarily aimed at hobbyists and therefore had little commercial appeal. At the end of the 70s, the Apple II appeared (today a model coveted by collectors), the Tandy Radio Shack and the Commodore PET.
Osborne 1, the computer that laid the foundations of portable computing
In 1979 the Atari 400/800 arrived and in 1980, among other desktop proposals, the the Osborne 1, a computer the size of an average sewing machine that could be moved from one place to another. The manufacturer’s marketing strategy to sell it was to keep repeating that it was the only computer that could fit under the seat of an airplane, and that was true, even if it couldn’t be used in the air. .
Its generous dimensions and the absence of a battery (it only worked plugged in) made it impossible to use this computer on an airplane. But the Osborne 1 had other features worth mentioning, which, although they may seem insignificant now, were interesting at the time. Let’s see.
He only had one 5-inch monochrome CRT display (13 centimeters). It can be curious at a time when the size of our televisions and smartphones has continued to grow. Additionally, it had two dual 5¼-inch, single-sided, single-density floppy disk drives that stored 90 KB each. Do you remember it’s a laptop? Well, it was portable, but it weighed 11.1 kg.
Another of its characteristics, according to the history of computingwere a Z80A-based processor running at 4 MHz (the Sinclair ZX Spectrum used a 3.5 MHz Z80), 64K of RAM and 4K of ROM. It ran the CP/M operating system and came with a generous software package that cost around $1,500 to buy separately, but was included in this $1,795 machine.
What did this package include? Some of the most cutting-edge programs of the time. WordStar word processor (earlier software) WordPerfect), SuperCalc spreadsheets, dBAES II databases, and the CBASIC and MBASIC programming languages. It wasn’t the fastest computer at the time, not even the one with the best screen, but oddly enough it became a bestseller.
The company, which had been founded months earlier by Adam Osborne, sold 11,000 units in the first eight months of launch and quickly peaked at 10,000 units sold per month. In fact, in November 1981, it had its first month of sales of $1 million, but everything changed drastically due to a mistake by the company that literally went down in history and with its own name.
Yes, the Osborne 1 came like churrosEven the company struggled to keep up with the growing demand for its first computer, which quickly became the first mass-produced laptop.
They grew from two employees to 3,000, and in the midst of this maelstrom the company began to think about the next product, one that could emulate or even surpass the success of the Osborne 1. So, shortly afterwards, in 1983, they announced the Osborne executive with a bigger screen.
After the announcement, resellers and customers thought it would be a bad investment to buy a laptop that had been on the market for nearly two years when a new model was about to come out, presumably with new features, a thought that we can have today in the face of the new generation of devices presented by the brands.
The consequence? Sales of the Osborne 1 began to decline sharply. The problem? Osborne’s exec wasn’t ready yet and the decrease in the flow of money ended up affecting its development and signing its death warrant.
According to Atari magazinethe first-generation laptop’s inventory began to pile up rapidly, the company’s economic losses became an unsustainable problem, and after experiencing explosive growth in its early days, it filed for bankruptcy on September 13 1983. Within days, layoffs began in all departments of the company: sales, production, marketing, etc.
Following a restructuring, Osborne emerged from bankruptcy in 1984 and launched a new portable, the Osborne Vixen, and began planning other products. However, it never regained the splendor of its early days. The truth is that at that time Kaypro Corporation presented the Kaypro II, which quickly won over users, and Compaq Computer Corporation its first product, the Compaq Portable.
The rise and fall of Osborne caused by the early introduction of a next-generation product that has been dubbed “Osborne effect“However, despite its traumatic outcome, the company pioneered the development and manufacture of the first portable personal computer to become a best-seller and inspire other companies to accelerate their development to compete with it.
Pictures | Wikimedia Commons
To Xataka | Atari celebrates its 50th anniversary and launches two new cartridges for the mythical Atari 2600: they are more expensive than any current game