Osborne 1

Osborne 1 Portable Computer

The Osborne 1 or OCC-1 was the first portable computer to get to market and become a commercial success. Released in 1981 by the Osborne Computer Corporation the unit weighed in at a hefty 23.5lb and cost a whopping $1795. Housed in a sewing machine sized box, the unit comprised of a small 5 inch monochrome display unit capable of displaying 52 characters by 24 lines. The monitor was situated in the middle of the unit and was flanked on either side by 2 five and a quarter inch single sided floppy disk drives. The CPU was a Zilog Z80 and ran at 4 MHz, with 64 kilobytes of main memory for use.

The unit was powered by a wall plug with no internal battery, although an aftermarket battery pack became available allowing for an hour’s runtime. The unit was portable due to the casing the system was housed within, made from a durable plastic that allowed the unit to be easily opened and closed. A pull out handle allowed the unit to be lifted a short distance if you had the arm strength of a Russian weightlifter. How times have changed in what we would now deem as portable, this behemoth weighed the equivalent of 20 iPads.

Osborne 1 Ad

Even by 1980’s standard the five inch monitor was minuscule in size, even in today’s mobile market there are phones that offer a comparable size. To look at the machine now is quite an eye opener, but even at the time of its conception the unit had many a critic. The press was not too impressed by its ungainly design faults, even Adam Osborne its developer didn’t have any kind words to say about his machine. Bluntly stating that the machine was only just adequate when compared to its peers, and expressing that the processor, disk space and expandability options were inadequate.

Osborne 1 Closed

Due to the Osborne 1’s success as a portable computer they found that their competitors followed suit with a raft of imitation machines to try and replicate and improve on the Osborne’s success in the portables market. Many offered lower entry price points realizing that the Osborne was quite a significant outlay for anyone’s budget; they would also bundle their systems with software to ensure a more complete package was on offer. One heir to the throne was the Kaypro II which offered a much improved monitor over the Osborne 1, nine inches in diameter and capable of displaying 80 characters on 24 lines with double density floppies offering greater data storage.

Osborne 1 Screen

Despite its many faults the Osborne 1 managed at its peak to sell 10,000 units per month and by the fall in 1981 the company had managed to reach its first month of a million dollars in sales. Their sales were however hampered when the company decided to inexplicably announce that they were to build a superior machine called the Osborne Executive, even though the unit was still on the drawing board and more than a year away from manufacture or sale. This provided one of the final nails to the Osborne 1’s coffin, unable to compete effectively with their new found competitors and their increasing failed attempts to bring new machines to the market.

Osborne Ad 2

The Osborne OCC-1 is not a rare item but collectors still look for them due to their novelty and the fact that they were the first portable computer. You can find fully functional Osborne portables for less than $100.00 or a little more if they have some accessories and software to go with them. they are definitely worth having in a collection for both their place in computing history as well as their conversational value.

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One thought on “Osborne 1

  1. Hi – I have an Osborne I, grey case, that I am looking to sell, hoping you might be interested. Also have some software in original packaging including dBase II, Personal Pearl, muMATH/muSIMP-80, Money Maestro and others. Also have Start-Pac with 3 cassettes, User Manual and many of the Osborne magazines. Let me know if you are interested or have any questions.

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