Osborne 1-First Portable Computer

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Computers nowadays come in all shapes and sizes from a smartphone to the super computer Mira.

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An essential requirement nowadays is that computers are portable. It may be hard to believe but the history of portable computers goes back 37 years, even when I write it ’37 years’ I can’t  believe it . i was barely a teenager then.

The Osborne 1 was the first commercially successful portable microcomputer, released on April 3, 1981, by Osborne Computer Corporation. It weighed 10.7 kg (24.5 lb), cost US$1,795, and ran the CP/M 2.2 operating system. Powered directly from a mains socket as it had no on-board battery, it was still classed as a portable device since it could be hand-carried when packed.

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While the Osborne 1 was a good deal at $1,795, it also came bundled with about $1,500 of free software:

  • CP/M Utility
  • CP/M Operating System
  • SuperCalc spreadsheet application
  • WordStar word processing application with MailMerge
  • Microsoft MBASIC programming language (interpreted)
  • Digital Research CBASIC programming language (compiled)

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Lets just have a look at the dazzling specification of this marvel of high tech equipment.

  • Dual 5¼-inch, single-sided 40 track floppy disk drives (“dual density” upgrade available)
  • 4 MHz Z80 CPU
  • 64 KB main memory
  • Fold-down 69 key detachable keyboard doubling as the computer case’s lid
  • 5-inch, 52 character × 24 line monochrome CRT display, mapped as a window on 128 × 32 character display memory
  • Parallel printer port configurable as an IEEE-488 port
  • RS-232 compatible 1200 or 300 baud Serial port for use with external modems or serial printers.

And yes this complicated piece of machinery needed a 500+ pages instruction manual.

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The Osborne 1 was powered by a wall plug with a switched-mode power supply, and had no internal battery. An aftermarket battery pack offering 1-hour run-time was available, and connected to the system through a front panel socket. Early models (tan case) were wired for 120 V or 240 V only. Later models (blue case, shipping after May 1982) could be switched by the user to run on either 120 V or 230 V, 50 or 60 Hz. There was no internal fan; a hatch at the top of the (blue) case could be opened for ventilation.

Ah those were the days.

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