Laptops

Dinosaur sightings: The Osborne 1 and the TRS-80 huggable luggables

Two dinosaurs on the prowl

While we have spent a good bit of time discussing the pros and cons of the Apple MacBook Air, there are other portable computers we could be talking about, namely, the Osborne 1 and the TRS-80 Model 4P.

When it comes to dinosaur computers in the luggable category the first name that should always be mentioned is the Osborne 1. We can talk about innovation with the Air, but we should first consider a PC that was truly revolutionary back in 1981. The Osborne 1 was the first completely self-contained portable computer.

Coming along a few years later was the Radio Shack TRS80 Model 4P, which refined the concepts laid out by the Osborne 1 and made lugging a computer from here to there a common every day reality for many.

There is now a Cracking Open Photo Gallery of the Osborne 1.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

67 comments
wheelerw
wheelerw

Ah... the O1. Got wait listed the night I bought mine from a then-prominent computer retailer in CT; 6 weeks or thereabouts later, got an original -- 90K floppies, and all. Was delighted with it (and had better eyes in those days) but went for the DD and 80col upgrades as soon as they were available. Modded the chassis to put a 5" fan on the rear, which (I believe) helped the machine survive 20+ years in working order. And in those 20, it acquired 3 siblings -- one more browncase, and two blue-greys. One of the latter was probably fried when I bought it ($20? maybe); the other seems to have an iffy stepper motor on the A: drive, but that's one I hope to cure. What I really (*really, really!*) need some help with is contact from someone who has a SYSGENed 5.25 SSDD floppy and would be willing to make me a copy. ww

gryps
gryps

The Wang 2200 computer was self-contained; my wife used to cart one around in the back of a van to work at customer sites. You should do more research; Tandy and Osborne ere way later. Terry Griffin (Wang, 1982 - 1994)

shodgdon
shodgdon

Memories of being on call ... bringing home an early-mid 80's Compaq "portable" A lot like the Osborne! Tiny monochrome screen ... I think two 5.25 floppy drives and that was it. About the size and weight of a fully-loaded bowling bag. Not to mention communications via a 28.8 modem!

jmeyer330
jmeyer330

What about the Compaq Portable? This is the one I remember... came out in early 1983.

gjpc
gjpc

Hey, it did not have a handle, but my VT109 with a PDP 11/23 in the internal QBUS Rack was definitely a lug-able!

douglas.d.loyd
douglas.d.loyd

I had one as my first.... Learning basic on an Apple and re-writing the labs in Tandy/IBM basic on it. Someone put the lid on wrong in some of those pics. It is not supposed to lean when you sit it down to rest your arm.......

PhotoIT
PhotoIT

I recall walking into a Radio Shack as a kid and putting a TS80 into a break loop. I imagine the Sales guy dealt with that kind of thing allot.

mrmiata7
mrmiata7

Funny seeing a "Manufactured in the USA" label on the TRS-80 Model 4P. No longer the case now since the majority of our manufacturing capacity has been exported to China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Mexico and other cheap labor countries

sir.ptl
sir.ptl

I was going to buy an Osborne 1 at the time, but I opted for a Compaq primarily because of it's larger CRT (screen) and it looked better. I actually would take this computer on business trips with me, but not all the time. I even took it to London.

The Old Man
The Old Man

Ahhhh, my first computer. The osborne 1 was cool stuff back in the day!

cuhullainn
cuhullainn

Ahhhhh, it brings back memories... Back then, I started with the TRS80 Mod3 with the "hi res" card, bought the 4P soon after it came on the market.Even had a Coco!! My first games were Zork and Bedlam...Nail biting in those days!!!

acad2kman
acad2kman

I remember seeing AutoCad version 1 running on an Osborne portable . . . in 1984 . . .

Red Elk
Red Elk

Ha! I knew the Osborne 1 would return one day, so I saved two of them. Yes, they are sitting on the shelf. Paid $1750.00 for one in '80 or '81, the other at the OHIO Ham Fest about 20 years ago for $25.00. A 15# box or 5.25 floppies and no idea if any still work. I used SuperCalc to do my records. Just a lot of GOOG memories.

gelfling6
gelfling6

Okay, I admit it! I'm an owner of BOTH of these Dinosaurs! I picked-up my 1st Osborne-1 just shortly before 1992-93, and made contact with a fellow Osborne owner, whom I shared many, MANY similarities. (same birthday, though his earlier than mine, He lived on a road with my Last name, we shared a common interest in the O1 (gray case version).. I also hacked together our 1st Osborne based BBS, with the 300/600/1200/2400 baud shifting ROM (it converted the bit used to detect carrier on the 300-baud modem pack, to a shift register, which allowed using 2 unused NAND gates) I also convertedd a LOT of my O1 disks to hacked-sided (replaced both drives with plain Tandon DSDD drives, but hooked a switch to the side selects) I picked-up the TRS-80 4P from a friend, and used it, while running a version of CP/M, as a disk translator, including hooking a pair of external drives (ran a DB-37 out through the back, in parallel with the internal DSDD drives).. Even had DSQD (720K 80-track) drives. Ironic note, for those who loved Wordstar, if you remember the old cursor key sequences, the majority of then still work with a lot of the new-fangled word processors.. It set the standard!

sdhutcheson
sdhutcheson

About 10 yrs ago i saw it in the Smithsonian! I still have mine. Can't give it up. WordStar, VisiCalc :-)

squirrelpie0
squirrelpie0

Think you are wrong on the Osborne being the first portable. I sold and trained people in the fertlizer industry on programmable calculators (Sharp) and AppleII units beginning in 1979. In late 1980 we had a prtable computer from HP that had 16K w another 16 K module that you plugged in the back. It was a complete unit with keyboard, screen, printer and tape drive. Sorry I can't remember the model number. It was a very reliable and fairly fast unit computing wise. It's two drawbacks were it was very expensive at that time and its tape drive made it slow to load and switch programs. The software package was developed by a firm from Kearney, NE, FSI, who was bought by Harris Labs of Lincoln, NE. The HP unit was not a commercial success at that point in that application, but it did exist and was a very portable and technically reliable unit compared to the Apple II and the TRS 80

mike
mike

This brings back memories of my Osborne II, the one with the orange screen. It had a very short life span with me because once I moved from the CPM operating system to MSDOS I gave the Osborne to a friend. Until I got my Macbook Pro, the Osborne was the computer for which I had the fondest memories.

jwarmbier
jwarmbier

I own one of the TRS-80 portables with some software. Is it valuable as an antique now?

emeric
emeric

On one of my first jobs, I used a Compaq luggable, and it seemed to weigh about 50 pounds. But, I could take work home for a change. Ah, the green phosphor that burned in so easily! My mother-in-law also had a Kaypro when I first met her, which went to her brother. I remember the metal case, but I seem to remember they hadn't done any smoothing on the corners; IIRC, they were still sharp. I never tried to lift it. She went to the 'dark side' after that... MS/DOS 5, Win 3.1, on a custom machine from Benchmark.

aardvark77
aardvark77

The Osborne 1 I have is a much improved grey/blue design. They were a very innovative company and upgrades for machines were available. Upgrades were 180k to 360k drives, 52 column to 80 column screen scrollable to 132 columns (useful for spreadsheets), fan! But one of the biggest innovations that Osborne brought to the marketplace was bundled software. Until the O1 came out the OS was not included with the computer! Even when the original IBM PC came out, you had to buy the OS separately (you had a choice of MS-DOS, CP/M-86, or University of Berkely P-System)The O1 also came with Wordstar, SuperCalc, programming languages, and a few others. People could actually _do_ something with their computers at a (then) reasonable price. All on 64k of memory.

santafe_kid
santafe_kid

I remember using an IBM 'luggable' back in 1979 (pre-Osbourne). It had two programming languages - ACL and BASIC, and you switched between the two with a hardware switch.....

williamjamesw
williamjamesw

As to where we should go from here. It would be nice to start making things robust enough that they might last this long again. Anybody think any recent models will still be bootable in 25 years?

thezar
thezar

I've got three Model 100s and three 10MB hard drives. Anybody got a cliff or a museum?

rasharpe
rasharpe

Love it had a TRS80 model 1 and a portable and finally a model IV before going over to the dark side a ibm pc -xt

mikebeq
mikebeq

What about the panasonic business partner and suitcase combo.

iain_stuart
iain_stuart

I wont forget the Kaypro I lugged one over an archaeological site in Syria in the early 1980's. I forget why we did it (I guess because we could) but it was kind of cool sitting on a hill overlooking the Euphrates entering data.

ctdak
ctdak

Don't forget the KayPro! It was an Osborne 1 knockoff. I had an Osborne while friends of mine had the KayPro at the same time. They were virtually the same machine and people used the same sofware on both. I developed an app in dBase 2 and it ran great on both of them. I remember when I first brought my Osborne into the office and people were in awe over it. Seems funny now. We're dating ourselves with this thread!

wendygoerl
wendygoerl

I remember my brother-in-law's old Compaq; I used it through college. The screen was almost half the size of the cross section and had its own custom tote bag. I suppose it's not old enough to count as a dinosaur? After all, it did have a hard drive (can't remember if it was 20 or 40 MB). After college, he sold it to my parents, who sold it in a rummage sale for $50 with all original documentation. I wonder where it is now?

timmers
timmers

All I have to say is DANG! I mess around on my dad's old dos machine when I was young (too little to care who made it or what model it was). You can reminisce all you want, but I wouldn't trade my Mac Pro for one of those in a million years. Some day I'm sure I'll look back and think of the good times I had on this machine, but I doubt I'll miss it if computers and their applications keep progressing in this manner.

newsplan1
newsplan1

I remember the Osborne. It had a screen the size of a large grapefruit. One of the big reasons I didn't buy it was because the company was attempting to charge reporters for product photos and interviews. To me, that indicated Osborne was clueless.

tleblanc
tleblanc

This was my first computer that I bought USED for $1500!!!!

nitehawk_ltd
nitehawk_ltd

I still have my Mod 4P. Many happy memories. I replaced the single side drives with double side ones. Still works! Although I'm missing the bottom cover. Deskmate was ok for it's day, but VisiCalc still kicks butt! They bought the company just to take VC off the market.

PSepulveda
PSepulveda

It was not the University of Berkely P-System, but the University of California at San Diego p-System.

joseph_gaude
joseph_gaude

I had a couple of KayPros also. An origianl II and a 10 with the gigantic 10MB hard drive! They both ran CP/M and ZCPR3/ZRDOS. Wonderful machines... I got rid of both of them a couple of years ago and now I'm wishing I kept them.. just to run space invaders!!!

lbibill
lbibill

Don't know about the actual timing, but my Kaypro II was a class act. Metal case, purchased for $2000 WITH PRINTER (Epson 9-pin IIRC) and all the good software, including PerfectWord and PerfectCalc (which I prefered to WordStar 2.2..which also came with the beast). But like CTDAK, when I brought mine in the office, two VPs went apecrap. And I was the HR guy with the PC...not the accounting guy. I had to teach him how to use the thing... And rather than dating ourselves, I think it is of note that we continue to evolve. I have a Compaq 386-20 in the basement that cost better'n $6K that I got at a yard sale for $5.00. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't Still is fun to see the amber screen...just for kicks... Bill

santafe_kid
santafe_kid

I remember buying early Compaq laptops - one for each board member @ $10,000 each. They were just status symbols as most members couldn't even turn them on....!!!

deepsand
deepsand

Both OSes and applications for the pre-Windows/AppleOS machines were mean and lean, hence the sub-title of the original [i]Dr. Dobb's Journal of Orthodontia[/i] - "Running light without over-byte." Everything then was written in either machine code or assembler; and, it screamed.

tronman
tronman

Straight to Commodore to market their fledgling Amiga line!!! "...One of the big reasons I didn't buy it was because the company was attempting to charge reporters for product photos and interviews. To me, that indicated Osborne was clueless." Back on topic though, circa 1981 my Grandmother ran a telephone answering service. All the doctors and dentists etc. used to use an actual service with actual humans who took down messages and kept track of who called the office etc.. She ran the whole works with a TRS80 model II I believe, it had a game with a big blocky square ghost as the graphic, a big blocky green square ghost ;-) Wow, those eight inch floppies were huge!

larrywest
larrywest

I'm glad you enjoyed your TRS-80 4P. I was one of the developers at Tandy Systems Design back in 1981-83, and did some of the work on the 4P boot ROM, though some other company did most of the OS. I didn't get my own Model 4P until they had them on a discontinued sale. (My salary was $11,000/year, so I couldn't afford one when I worked there.) Most of my time was spent either on the Assembly Language Development System, a factory disk duplication program, or on fixing bugs within the operating system. I developed the last program Tandy sold for the Model I computer. I still have a hard-copy of the source code for the Model III TRSDOS 1.4 (never released) that I had plan on using if I ever needed Z-80 code examples for a new job. Happy memories indeed.

deepsand
deepsand

Mine's still in use as well, although the one power-supply connector is a bit flaky; a carefully placed rubberband, used as a tension spring to hold the wires to that connector in just the right spot, the solves the problem, at least until it dries out from the heat. In additional to LSI-DOS, its running CP/M. [edited for spelling]

emeric
emeric

I agree. When I went to college, we had a room full of TRS-80 Model IIIs, but no assembler. I remember hand-assembling programs and poking them into high memory... sure beat the built-in BASIC interpreter for speed. Even using the BASIC interpreter, though, those old machines weren't slow. I believe the clock was slower than the 4.77MHz used by the IBM PC, but there are times I think the programs I wrote back then run faster than on this old Dell. The cardiac information system I wrote for a local hospital was still running several years later, in 64K of memory (last I heard was around 1990). Just before I graduated, the Model 4 came out, but I never got to use it. Imagine, 128K and a faster Z80!

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

I recall that it took mere seconds for it to boot up on my 6MHz Z-80 card on my Apple][e. And that was off of a floppy! I think of this every time I watch a Windoze PC take 4 or more minutes to boot up. I frequently dream of an OS who's size didn't grow exponentially against hardware performance.

pacav69
pacav69

I believe that the program was called VisiCalc that was developed by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston for the CP/M platform.

egmccann
egmccann

I remember having that reaction to a Commodore 128. "Wow. Never use all THAT!" *looks at two gig in current system* *sighs*

deepsand
deepsand

Tandy used the Z80 in Model I, II, III, 4 and 4P, running it at 2 or 4 MHz depending of the model. Logical Systems, the developers of TRS-DOS 6.x, continued supporting and updating it, rebranded as LDOS, LS-DOS, or LSI-DOS, depending on which literatur you read, well after Tandy dropped their support. They also extended the life of Profile/Profile Plus (Tandy's name for the filePro DBMS) as well. Not sure what you're try to recall re. CP/M, but CP/M 3.0 was a DRI product; and, for a short whil, Tandy sold CP/M 3.0 Plus for the 4P. As for the Z-System, it's a name remembered, but nothing more. Yes, how different micros might be had Kidall not blown of IBM, thus allowing Gates to convince them to buy, even before he'd developed it, his version of QDOS, rebranded as PC-DOS. The differences between CP/M-86 & the pitiful PC-DOS were so great that the latter was derisively referred to by many as NO-DOS.

gelfling6
gelfling6

I believe the TRS-80 4P was right at the 4Mhz clock (I think I had a clocking program that actually showed 3.66Mhz while running CP/M).. the upper 64MB memory as a ram drive.. (Nuts! It wasn't the CP/M 3.0 Tandy dragged on releasing, who made the fast version? Pickles & Trout? No, that was the 2/12/16..) the Osborne was also 4Mhz flat. Between the friend who co-founded the Yankee Osborne Users BBS, (Stop laughing Daryl!) we made use of a software "Click" clock to keep it running with a time-stamp & everything.. When the advanced version of CP/M (ever hear of Z-System? Jay Sage, Howard Goldstein, quite a few others.) Daryl pioneered the old Trantor Systems SCSI drive, to run with the new Z-System, without blowing the OS out of memory. Ah yes, I remember CP/M well.. the Late Gary Kildall would still be proud, had Micro$oft not purchased the rights to Seattle Computer Products' SCP-DOS 1.0, and turned it into MS-DOS.

deepsand
deepsand

That other machines, such as those produced by Tandy, were faster owes to their using the Z80.

gelfling6
gelfling6

I still have a few modified O1 motherboards.. The main modification used a couple of the unused NAND gates, and changed the carrier-detect pin for the 300-baud Modem pack, into a switch to software switch the jumper you needed to remove, to run 600-2400 baud to the RS-232 port. there was a old Osborne group modified BIOS ROM, (1.45 I believe, stock ROMs for the single density (1.2), and the double (V1.3 to V1.44).. Real fun, was Osborne's memory-mapped I/O.. made me thing of the old MOS 6502. a 2k Memory page, swapped in/out using the 2nd half of the 64K memory.. Oh, that was fun.. running a program that needed parts of the BIOS, then the CP/M CBIOS, and both occupied the lower 32K, but paged.. One wrong call, then forcing the page back at the wrong time, RESET!. Okay, Now I need to haul 'Ducky' out of storage.. (had 2 yellow Duck stickers on the drive faces, from a previous owner.) Stephen

chippsetter
chippsetter

I got it second hand in 1989 but I don't know if the disks are still good. I guess I will have to get it out of storage and see. I don't have the books though.

atlast23
atlast23

My Osborne still works! Plus, while I was using it on a regular basis, I UPGRADED to the 300-baud modem. Wow it was heaven.

deepsand
deepsand

But, my memories of nearly instantaneous boots are crystal clear. I'm reminded of those halcyon days every time that I boot any of my old TRS/Tandy machines. And, boot times were quite short for CP/M based OSes, including NOSes such as TurboDOS, even when running on 808x/80x8x platforms.

deepsand
deepsand

That's what haapens when in a hurry & not using a spell-checker. BTW, VisiCalc was [u]originally designed for the MOS Tech 6502 CPU, with the Apple II being the 1st platform targeted[/u]. It was later ported to several other 6502 based machines, as well as the TRS-80 (Zilog Z80 CPU) & the IBM PC.