Linked by David Adams on Tue 5th Apr 2011 16:19 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless There's a fascinating post at the StormDriver blog comparing the first mass-produced portable computer, the Osborne 1, with today's hot-selling portable computing device, the iPad 2. The Osborne was launched 30 years ago this week, and of course the comparison with the iPad is about as stark as you would expect. The iPad is literally thousands of times better in some measurable aspects, costing about one eighth as much in inflation-adjusted dollars.
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Early portable computing
by whartung on Tue 5th Apr 2011 16:40 UTC
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I recall going to an Osborne sales pitch with my Father. It was my first exposure to a spreadsheet. The machine was cool, but the screen and column limitations were telling. The price, however, was amazing.

I personally had much more success with an early Tandy Model 100, still one of most amazing machines created. I would pack it in my tank bag on my motorcycle, and travel "blog" with it on the road. Then upload the stories to the school BBS over its built in modem. With no moving parts, it easily handled the vibrations that typically accompany motorcycle travel. My cassette tapes, they're not so lucky. They'd almost always have to be rewound to retighten them up after a ride so they could be played.

I always loved the keyboard on that thing, I fashioned cool little feet to give it a nice tilt by cutting the eraser ends off of a couple of pencils, and it really did run forever on those batteries.

The best feature about the word processor was that when you upload the story to someplace else, you could tell it a different column to wrap the lines at (say, 72) vs its 40 column display. You just put the BBS in to "post" mode, and hit the send key, at 300 baud.

Worked like a champ. Simple, fast, light. It would be less bulky today, but it was tough and a real workhorse.

Reply Score: 4

RE: Early portable computing
by senshikaze on Tue 5th Apr 2011 16:58 UTC in reply to "Early portable computing"
senshikaze Member since:

I don't know why, but your post reminded me of this comic:


Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Early portable computing
by Lennie on Tue 5th Apr 2011 23:39 UTC in reply to "RE: Early portable computing"
Lennie Member since:

The original article reminded me of what this family had in 1967:

They already had cloudcomputing. ;-)

Still a bit expensive, but I'm sure some people pay that for their broadband.

Reply Score: 2

lucas_maximus Member since:

Ace link, some of it is true in the video ... truely a first for Tomorrow's World ...

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Not a big step for mankind
by cwlh on Tue 5th Apr 2011 21:03 UTC
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I haven't worked out the numbers for the Osborne and the iPad but I did give a lecture a few years ago at a local university wherefor I estimated how much larger a problem could be handled by a recent computer than a 1980s one. All interesting problems are NP complete so I assumed an exponential order of algorithm (processing time and memory) and found that the modern computer can handle problems about 40% larger than a 1980s computer. Not really a substantial increase for all that extra memory and processor clock speed.

The basic problem is the modern obsession with digital computers. Most interesting problems are either analogue or close to analogue and the idea of converting the problem into the digital domain, running an inefficient algorithm in that domain and then converting the result back will always place a practical upper limit on the speed of computing.

So, yes, the iPad is faster at linear things (adding up a grocery bill, compiling my latest program, etc.) than the Osborne but it's not much faster at interesting things. And, frankly, even most of the linear things (e.g., my word processor) are limited by my typing speed, for which the Osborne was fine.

But I agree that it is more portable.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Not a big step for mankind
by olafg on Tue 5th Apr 2011 22:05 UTC in reply to "Not a big step for mankind"
olafg Member since:

Uhm, I hope you are joking? Most interesting problems are not NPC. Most interesting problems only become NPC when you phrase them as decisionproblems where you seek optimal solutions. In reality pragmatic solutions can get very close to the optimal solution and belong to P.

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portables, luggables ...
by gehersh on Tue 5th Apr 2011 22:33 UTC
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I vaguely remember seeing Osborn in a store, I think it was Jordan Marsh, Boston Downtown. But the first portable, or better luggable I actually used was Compaq, it has CRT display and it was a dedicated Sniffer box. Pretty heavy, but actually fairly high quality.

Reply Score: 1

Ahhh... the Osborne
by obsidian on Tue 5th Apr 2011 23:52 UTC
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One of my friends had an Osborne. I had a lot of fun with it. It had a chess program that I could actually *beat* ..... ;) Good times!

Reply Score: 2

Comment by lucas_maximus
by lucas_maximus on Wed 6th Apr 2011 00:13 UTC
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"You could actually take a 1980s-level hardware infrastructure and layer some software with modern capabilities on top of it and get something really quite amazing. You could search for information with Google, keep up with your friends on Facebook, share your ideas over Twitter, collaborate with your colleagues using email and messaging, play an Angry Birds-like game, make a complex spreadsheet, prepare a presentation for a speech."

Being done as we speak, this is being made primarily for computers that need low power mainly for monitoring environments (e.g. water level in a Water tower) and has a wireless capabilities to talk to home. I believe they have a full TCP/IP stack for CP/M implemented.

Edited 2011-04-06 00:14 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE: Comment by lucas_maximus
by helf on Fri 8th Apr 2011 12:59 UTC in reply to "Comment by lucas_maximus"
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Yeah, there are plenty of old boxes from the 80s that you can now get online with and do just about everything the article talks about... granted, most of them are later 80s machines, but still.

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Osborne is nice but...
by matako on Wed 6th Apr 2011 07:18 UTC
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Personally, I would consider something like Epson HX-20 (1981) or Tandy TRS-100 (1983) as a better contender for the first true portable! Those machines had excellent autonomy and were very light.

Reply Score: 1

Some comments
by jal_ on Wed 6th Apr 2011 12:36 UTC
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I don't think anyone would disagree that big high resolution color screens, GUIs, 3D shading, and LiPo batteries don't represent a huge leap forward for technology.

Triple negative gone wrong ;) . I think you want to ditch that last "don't". Or better, ditch the negatives alltogether.

You could actually take a 1980s-level hardware infrastructure and layer some software with modern capabilities on top of it and get something really quite amazing.

Well, quite amazing for the limited capabitilites, yes. But the almost implied "we could've done that in the 80s" is of course not true - the infrastructure that's needed behind all those on-line capabilities is of course humongous, and not achievable with 80s hardware.

all but the most rudimentary GUI

Well, e.g. SymbOS has a fine GUI on 80s hardware.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Some comments
by helf on Fri 8th Apr 2011 12:58 UTC in reply to "Some comments"
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It really depends on your definition of a fine UI ;) plenty os UIs out of the 80s were amazing for their time. And, dependent on exactly how much you had to blow on hardware, not all that different from todays.

Reply Score: 2