Mobile Computing is Thirty Years Old This Weekend

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Sad but true: We have no national holidays in this country that pay tribute to our great technological heritage. But if we did, April 3rd would be a good candidate. On that day in 1981, at a trade show in San Francisco, a startup called Osborne Computer Corporation announced the Osborne 1, the first mass-produced portable computer. That makes this Sunday the thirtieth anniversary of mobile computing as a practical reality.

Of course, the Osborne 1 wasn’t quite as practical as a garden-variety 2011 notebook: it was the size of a sewing machine, weighed 24 pounds, had a dinky 5″ monochrome display, and didn’t have a built-in battery. But it did have a handle, which made it the first luggable PC. (The earliest notebooks didn’t arrive until a year or two after the Osborne, and didn’t entirely displace luggables until late in the decade.) It was also a great deal at $1795–especially since it was ready to go out of the box, with a bundle of apps worth around $1500 all by themselves.

The Osborne 1 was an influential machine and a hit, but Osborne Computer is best remembered today for having flamed out just two and a half years after it was founded–a fate usually blamed on it preannouncing the successors to the Osborne 1 before they were ready, although the truth is more complicated than that. There’s a lot to say about this stuff–and I’ve said some of it over at Technologizer, where I’m celebrating the anniversary with a look Osborne Computer, the Osborne 1, and Adam Osborne, the fascinating founder of the company.