Osborne 1
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Osborne 1

The Osborne 1 is one of my favorite collectibles. That doesn't necesarilly mean it is the best, or the one I would choose as my main CP/M machine, but it has "character". Some of its' character traits are endearing, and some merely frustrating, but the Osborne was and is one of the most important personal computers.  I believe the Osbornes' portability and Osbornes' concept of a computer/software "bundle" at a value price influenced the way computers are used, and the way computers are sold and priced.

When the Osborne was introduced it was the most portable full-scale computer available. The original version of the computer weighed 23.5 pounds. The later version of the Osborne 1 weighs an extra pound. The keyboard latches into place in front of the screen and disk drives and protects them during transport. When the computer is packed up it looks like a portable sewing machine. A sewing machine that leans like the Tower of Pisa. There is a small door on the rear of the case which opens up for access to cord storage and the power switch. There is also a sliding cover on the top of the computer which uncovers a vent to let heat escape from the computer.

The Heat Vent

Power Switch, fuses, and cord storage.

In addition to being portable, the Osborne was a tremendous value, having a Z-80 processor, 64K of RAM, and two diskette drives for $1,795.00. But a professional 64K computer is useless without software. The real kicker is that when you bought the computer you also received a quality software bundle that would retail for about $1,500.00. You had the CP/M operating system, WordStar and MailMerge for word processing chores, SuperCalc electronic spreadsheet, and MBASIC and CBASIC basic languages. It was like buying the computer for $295.00. This made a serious computer available to more people.

The Osborne 1 originally had 91K disk drives. My unit has double-density 182K disk drives. The 182K drives can read and write 91K diskettes. There are two spaces for storing diskettes, but the one on the left side of my computer seems to have a modem installed. I have no idea if it works, or what speed it would be. Someday I may get it figured out. I also have an adaptor to hook up a composite video monitor. Osbornes also have RS-232, IEEE-488, and modem input/ouput ports. The I/O ports are mounted on the front panel of the computer, and sometimes the cable to other devices (printers and the like) would get in the way of either the keyboard or disk drives. Osborne also included a good full-size keyboard with a numeric keypad and for whatever reason no DELETE key.

Is that a small screen or what?

The most startling and controversial feature of the Osborne 1 is the built-in 5 in. CRT monitor. When compared to desktop monitors which start at 12 inches and go up, it can only be described as tiny. The photo above shows how it compares in size to a 3.5 in. diskette. It doesn't display the normal 24 lines by 80 characters that most professional computers do. It displays 24 lines by 52 characters. That means with most programs the screen has to scroll back and forth from left to right to display all the information. That may take some getting used to, but it is workable. In defense of the Osborne the screen is sharp and clear and much easier to read than you would imagine. Osborne did offer an external 12 in. monitor, but it still only would display 52 character lines.

I like the quiet operation of the Osborne. There is no noisy fan running and it his no high-pitched whine from a hard drive, so it sits there in silence except for key noise when you are typing away, or the occasional noise of the disk drives reading or writing to the diskettes.

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