|Japan, 1986 - Precious companions: Caroline and|
(over the shoulder) the Osborne 3 in backpack.
Like Kay with the Kaypro, Adam Osborne was an inventor who might have been a big winner in the personal computer sweepstakes.
Osborne Computing was, following its introduction of the Osborne 1 computer in April 1981, the most rapidly growing company in Silicon Valley. The Osborne 1 weighed 24 pounds and didn't have a battery, but for people who then assumed that computers were too big to carry, it was a break-through.
It was also one of the first computers to come with a good word-processing program and communications software, which were my main uses, and was much cheaper than the competition at under $1,800.
|Japan, 1986 - on an excursion|
with my Osborne 3.
The official history of IBM cites the August 1981 debut of the IBM PC and compares it with the needs of the IBM 360 and other mainframes. It cites the earliest mainframes as costing $9 million, requiring an air-conditioned quarter-acre of space and 60 people to run and keep it loaded with instructions, and goes on:
The IBM PC changed all that. It was a very small machine that could not only process information faster than those ponderous mainframes of the 1960s but also hook up to the home TV set, process text and store more words than a huge cookbook - all for a price tag of less than $1,600.Actually, the Osborne 1 "changed all that" a few months before. But Osborne Computing is not around to argue with IBM's story.
|With the Osborne 3 today. It turned|
on after recharging. My serial number
is 1-00134 - looks like it was #134 in
Armed with the Osborne 3, I went on a summer-long trip to Japan in 1986 with my wife Alice and two children, who were then 9 and 12 years old.
|The Osborne 3, side view with the |
15-volt DC transformer and battery
charger. I have two. The first one
didn't work. The second one did.
Back in 1981, the Osborne 1 computer was the world's first portable computer. It had a great future. In 2011, on the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the first Osborne, Harry McCracken at Technologizer wrote an article that explains what went wrong. There were some technical bad calls, but the company-killing mistake that Adam Osborne made has now been given a name, the "Osborne Effect."
|View from the disk-drive side. The|
Osbornes had two disk drives. The
front drive had the disk with what
we would call today the "app", in
this case the MS-DOS 2.1 software.
This killing of sales of the existing Osborne 1 by promising an Osborne 2 that isn't ready to sell is a classic business mistake. It is the second way, after being the first to bring out a portable computer, that Osborne's name has become immortal. IBM did something like this with its main-frame business (the IBM 360 and the PC were both delayed) but IBM was so big it careened on. Osborne, however, had pumped-up competitors who ate its lunch and then its dinner.
|Adam Osborne. Photo|
by Stephen Osborne.
Maybe it was his parents' spiritual journey that taught him to see things clearly and put a premium on honesty. That's what made him a consumer's friend when he wrote his curmudgeonly computer column, "From the Fountainhead", before he started his company.
|The four icons on the Osborne 3.|
Instead of selling his product by focusing on the Incredible Good News of computer portability, he was honest about explaining where own computer fell short. He famously told InfoWorld that his product was slow and "merely adequate" relative to his competition, which was at first mainly the Kaypro.
|This miner's head lamp is what I used in |
1986 to read the Osborne 3 LCD screen.
|The Book of World|
City Rankings, 1986
I would bring it to the library of the International House in Tokyo and worked on it at a table there. During the summer of 1986 I wrote about a trip to revisit the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which had been very helpful on an earlier visit in 1981 that produced data for The Book of World City Rankings.
I remember writing articles using the Osborne 3 that summer, about visiting the shrine at Ise, about the usefulness of backpacks and a need to invent one with more style and brand it, the Recruit campaign-stock scandal, and a proposal for a monument to Commodore Perry at Shimoda.
|This is what the boot-up screen of my Osborne 3 looks|
like. The initial screen shows the month of October 1984.
The Osborne 3 and prior versions (Encore and Amstread) were based on MS-DOS with a built-in modem and a world clock on the boot-up screen. The keyboard has four "icon" keys which called up small programs located in ROM - the "phone" key called up the communication software, the "clock" key called a calendar, the "disk" key booted the system and the "calculator" key called a small electronic calculator.
Vadem's engineers made the Osborne 3, issued in 1985, much more compatible with IBM. The Osborne 3 that I carried around Japan in 1986 was the last Osborne computer sold in USA. Osborne Corp. was operating under bankruptcy conditions starting in 1983 and finally shut down in 1986.