by David Nimmons
David Nimmons is an editor at Playboy magazine and works as a computer consultant to community groups and magazines in New York.
It's never been dull, being an Osborne I. When it all started, I was the hottest thing since the diode. There he goes, they'd whisper, the machine that invented the portable market. But then came the problems, the bad press, and finally the Big Sleep they call chapter XI, with my makers broke. It's not that I miss the glitz; I just wish someone had asked me for my side. Just once couldn't someone come up, buy me a disk and say, "Hey, Ozzie, tell me: what was it really like?"
It was never easy. My whole life, people made fun of me. When I came out in 1981, everybody took pot shots. I was smaller than the others-at twenty-three pounds I was the lightest in my class. "Hey, look at the sewin' machine with the funny name!" they'd taunt. "Why don't you go hide under an airplane seat if you're so portable?" I'd hear the whispers in the hallway: "If the Good Lord had intended Adam and Eve to have portable computers, He wouldn't have given them an Apple."
The worst was in physical education. In the locker room, booting up, the big guys would point at my five-inch screen: "It's so tiny," they'd yell. "What can you do with that?" I hated it when they made fun of my specifications.
But slowly they began to see I was smart. That made me stand out. At the time most personal computers were still, well, undeveloped, with a mere 48K memory. They were fun for games-and who could forget their graphics?-but when the time came to run a serious program like word processing, they just couldn't keep up. Most of the other machines in my class, the under $2,000 group, seemed like kids. Me, on the other hand, I matured early; I had 64K and knew how to use it.
A lot of the other machines led you on. You'd pick them out, spend time together in the store, pay $2,000 for their sleek curves and then, when you got them home, find they wouldn't come across. Nobody ever mentioned that you had to buy another $1,000 worth of software if you wanted something more complex than a doorstop.
I was never like that. Let those other machines come with a book and a prayer; Osborne gave you enough software to run a small country. I'm not bragging or anything, but I really showed users a good time: I had WordStar, the best word processor around; SuperCalc, an electronic spreadsheet; BASIC for programmers; and enough CP/M utilities to do most housekeeping and organization tasks any new owner would be likely to have. It added up to about $1,500 worth of programs. When you're wearing a $1,795 price tag, well, it makes people look at you different. Word got around: Osborne comes through when you get him home.
Also, I was compatible. Maybe it's just because I'm a CP/M kind of machine and all, but I look at some of those weird operating systems as pretty impractical. It's like studying art history or something-what good is it out in the real world? A machine has to get along out there, and in those days, since more CP/M programs were written than any other kind, I could run most any off-the-shelf commercial software
Then one day they stopped calling me just 01. Suddenly I was an Executive. I looked down at my disk drives and realized they'd grown up: 192K per drive, double density. My RAM was no longer a child's 64K; it had swelled to a grown-up 128K, which meant I could run faster, more powerful software.
There were some subtle changes, too. I learned to read several other formats: IBM, DEC, Xerox. I also learned about, well, interfacing. I was much better at getting mainframes to talk to me, partly because I could emulate several kinds of terminals. I even gained five pounds. They equipped me for a co-processor, in addition to my Z80A processor, so I'd be able to run IBM software right off the shelf.
But the best thing about being an Executive was that my screen got bigger, more usable, clearer. People started respecting my 80 columns, my seven-inch display. I'll admit it still wasn't the biggest around, but it was readable and sharp and a beautiful amber color.
Me, I got no regrets. What happened wasn't my fault. I was a good machine and corporate let me down, nothing I could have done. But after all this time, couldn't they lay off about my screen already?
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