The (Gaming) Laptop Turns 30

There were portable computers before 1981, but the Osborne 1 is generally regarded as the world’s first commercially available portable computer. “Laptop” is also a bit of an overstatement here, since it’s highly unlikely that this 23.5 pound monster was on anyone’s lap.

It borrowed heavily from the Xerox NoteTaker, which was a ​​prototype built already in 1976 but never made it past the prototype stage. Nevertheless, the Osborne One was something of a sensation in it’s – at the time – sleek design that allowed it to fit under an airplane seat.

The keyboard could be detached from the main unit to reveal dual 5.25-inch floppy drives and a monochrome 5-inch display. At the heart of the unit was a Zilog Z80 processor that ran at an impressive 4Mhz and it was also equipped with 64 kilobytes of RAM.

In addition to the bundled software–Word Star, SuperCalc, Dbase II and Microsoft Basic interpreter–you could indeed play games on this stone age laptop. Colossal Cave was the main attraction; an adventure game that looked like this:

Colossal Cave

The Infocom adventure game Deadline was also available for the Osborne. There were reportedly also a few shareware games that took full advantage of the machine’s text-based interface. To get this kind of mobile gaming horsepower you had to shell out $1,795 in 1981. With monetary inflation taken into account, that’s probably about the same amount you’ll have to pay for today’s equivalent: a tricked-out Alienware M18x.

A battery was not included in the $1,795, but if you invested in the optional add-on battery, the computer would run for an hour without a power supply–yet another similarity with modern gaming laptops.

The unit did quite well on the market, initially. In 1981 a total of about 11,000 machines were sold, but a couple of years later Osborne Computer Corporation went bankrupt due to poor marketing tactics. They prematurely announced improved successors – the Osborne Executive and Osborne Vixen, which hurt the sales of the original product. The company filed for bankruptcy in September 1983.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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