Dinosaur sightings: The Osborne 1 and the TRS-80 huggable luggables
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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.
Weight is relative
The Osborne 1 is generally recognized as the world’s first self-contained portable computer. But it is only portable in the sense that it can be moved — the concepts of laptops and notebooks was still years away in 1981. You can get the full back story for the Osborne 1 at oldcomputers.net.
Not everything lasts
The handle on the Osborne was made out of leather or leather-like material and has long since disintegrated. The case is pure plastic and apparently nearly indestructible.
Top to bottom
The top of the Osborne 1 doubles as the bottom depending on whether you are carrying it or about to open it up.
The Osborne 1 was equipped with the standard serial ports of the day.
A battery -- that's innovation
Before the Osborne 1, the idea of non-military personnel being able to use a computer while not connected to an electrical outlet was not practical. The Osborne 1 included a battery pack that could power the PC out in the field. I can imagine this was a major innovative breakthrough and was definitely a foreshadowing of the future of portable/mobile computing.
The Osborne 1 contained two full-size 5 1/4 floppy disk drives. Just think one floppy for applications and a second floppy for data — now that’s portability.
No movies here
The video screen is only 5 inches diagonal. Just enough room to see 52 characters on each line.
Our Osborne 1 is alive and operating flawlessly. Now that is some engineering for you.
Dir = directory
Here is a list of the files found on our floppy disk.
For some of you the word processor Wordstar will bring back many memories. Whether they are good or bad memories I will not venture to guess.
TRS-80 Model 4P
While we have made a Dinosaur Sighting for the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer 2 and subsequently published a Cracking Open gallery, this is our first look at the TRS80 Model 4P — the P stands for portable of course.
In many ways, the Model 4P is a revision and update of the Osborne 1. When this luggable computer hit the market in 1983, the Osborne computer company was trying to cope with stiff competition that ultimately resulted in bankruptcy. Radio Shack, Compaq, and a few other companies were making bids to corner the fledgling portable PC market and the Osborne had trouble keeping up.
Look and feel
The TRS80 Model 4P looks very similar to the Osborne 1.
Up is down
And like the Osborne 1, the Model 4P has a lid protecting the keyboard, screen, and floppy disk drives that doubles as a bottom when the portable computer is being lugged around.
Release the latches to reveal the PC beneath.
Room to spare
The TRS80 Model 4P saves a significant amount of room by using half-sized 5 1/4 floppy drive bays.
Power me up
The power and reset switch are on the front panel.
I can see
The screen on the Model 4P is considerably larger than the small screen on the Osborne 1.
Top to back
This panel door is on top when traveling and on the back when in use.
The panel door contains several pieces of vital information about our TRS80 Model 4P.
You break it...
The service contract ran out over 20 years ago, I’d better be careful when I do the Cracking Open.
Need to print that?
The parallel printer port was a standard component of PCs in this time period.
Plug it in
The built-in modem was connected to the phone lines back here.
Fire it up!
The TRS80 Model 4P booted up like a champ. The Model 4P could run a version of DOS or CP/M.
Yeah that's old
One fascinating thing to note about our Model 4P — it will not accept dates past 1999. The infamous 2K bug in action. I just used a 1985 date.
Here are the lists of what applications and programs are stored on our two floppy disks.
How it used to be
Here we go – one application disk and one data disk.
The Osborne 1 and the TRS80 Model 4P are very similar, but the TRS80 is clearly superior. The Model 4P is constructed out of more sturdy material and has more of a finished feel.
The Osborne, while innovative for its time, feels more like a conceptual prototype. And in retrospect, it did turn out to be a blueprint for the luggable personal computers that followed.
A few generations
The difference between what constitutes a portable computer today and what was considered portable some 25 years ago is drastic.
The Apple MacBook Air is over 10 times lighter than either the TRS80 or the Osborne 1 and is easily 1000 of times more powerful.
The real question is where we go from here.