Computer book author and publisher Adam Osborne went into the hardware business in 1979 with a design for a transportable CP/M system. He put together an all-star team to launch the company and build the computer. CP/M creator Gary Kildall, CBASIC author Gordon Eubanks, and WordStar creator Seymore Rubenstein sat on his board of directors. Lee Felsenstein, who designed the Sol-20, developed the computer to Osborne’s specifications.
Osborne was a victim of its own success. Launched in 1979, the company had sold 11,000 Osborne 1 systems by the end of 1981 with orders for 50,000 more. By the time the Executive came out in mid-1983, 100,000 Osborne 1 systems had been sold. A year later, Osborne was recording sales of $10 million a month. Osborne shipped nearly 150,000 Osborne 1 and Executive units worldwide by late 1984. Unfortunately, the company was unable to keep up with the backlog, which opened the door to competitors. In September 1983, Osborne filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, reorganized, and came out with several new models, none of which showed the innovation and customer loyalty that the Osborne 1 and Executive did. The company survived for several years post-bankruptcy, but produced mostly unremarkable PC-compatible desktop and transportable systems.
The earliest Osborne 1s had miniscule displays that were soon replaced by larger ones. The tan plastic case was replaced by a sturdier blue-grey case as well. Osborne improved the video display and boosted memory with the Executive. Unfortunately, it also added more than a pound of weight over the Osborne 1. The Executive II was Osborne’s first attempt at a PC-compatible system.
The Vixen was introduced shortly after Osborne emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It was faster and had a bigger display than previous models, but never matched their success.
The Osborne 3 (sold as Encore in the U.K.) is an unusual find today and features an odd design with a fold-down keyboard. It is the last true Osborne system. Vadem, a California company with management connections to Osborne, designed the Osborne 3. The Morrow Pivot and Zenith Z-171 used the same design.
Osborne 1 (1981, transportable)
Original Retail Price: $1,795
Base Configuration: Z80A CPU, CP/M, 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, integral monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, RS-232 and IEEE-488 ports, BASIC, application suite, carrying case
Video: 24-line x 50-column text, 128 x 34 graphics
Size/Weight: 26 lbs.
Important Options: 12-inch monochrome monitor, battery pack
Osborne Executive/Executive II (1983, transportable)
Original Retail Price: $2,495 (Executive)/$3,195 (Executive II)
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A CPU, 8088 coprocessor (Executive II), CP/M Plus (Executive)/CP/M-86 and MS-DOS (Executive II), 128K RAM (Executive)/256K RAM (Executive II), two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, integral 7-inch monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232C ports, MBASIC, CBASIC, application suite
Video: 24-line x 80-column text
Size/Weight: 20.5 x 13 x 9 inches, 28 lbs.
Osborne 4 Vixen (1984, transportable)
Original Retail Price: $1,298
Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A CPU, CP/M 2.2, 64K RAM, two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, integral 7-inch monochrome CRT, keyboard, RS-232C and parallel ports, application suite, MBASIC
Video: 25-line x 80-column text
Size/Weight: 12.62 x 16.25 x 6.25 inches, 22 lbs.
Important Options: external 10MB hard disk drive
Osborne 3 (a.k.a. “Encore”) (1985, transportable PC)
Original Retail Price: $1,895
Base Configuration: 3.5MHz 80C86 CPU, MS-DOS 2.11, 128K RAM (512K max), 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, monochrome LCD, integral keyboard, RS-232C and parallel ports, internal modem, AC adapter
Video: 16-line x 80-column text, 480 x 128 graphics
Size/Weight: 9.5 x 13 x 5.5 inches, 11.9 lbs.
Important Options: NiCad battery pack