BANGALORE, India Adam Osborne, who launched the world's first portable computer in a suitcase well ahead of IBM and other PC makers, died March 18 in the south Indian hill station of Kodaikanal after a long illness.
Unknown and unsung despite his high profile in the early 1980s, it took a week for news of Osborne's death to reach the outside world.
Osborne, who returned to India in 1991 from the United States after a series of minor strokes died in his sleep, according to Katya Douglas, his sister. He was 64. He had long been suffering from "organic brain syndrome."
Osborne entered the limelight in 1981 when he launched the Osborne 1, a personal computer in a suitcase weighing about 10 kilos (22 lbs.), at the West Coast Computer Fair. Priced at $1,795, it was based on the Zilog z80 processor with 64 Kbits of RAM, two 5.25 inch internal floppy drives, a 5-inch monitor and no hard disk. It included free bundled software such as
a spreadsheet and was based on the pre-DOS CP/M operating
The Osborne 1 was meant to take on Apple Computer at half the price. Its success proved that it worked.
Osborne became one of the computer industry's earliest millionaires, and his quick rise to fame and fortune presaged the successes of the dot.com millionaires of the 1990s.
The Osborne 1 sold 10,000 units a month after two years and sales reached nearly $69 million. But a mix of marketing naivete and the arrival of other computer manufacturers ended Osborne's meteoric rise. He disappeared from the headlines as quickly as he had appeared.
Just when the Osborne 1 reach the peak of its popularity, Osborne announced that a new and improved machine called "Vixen" was in the works. The new machine had just been conceived, and potential customers put off purchases of the Osborne 1, preferring to wait for the new machine. Meanwhile, IBM launched its new PCs and sales of Osborne's machines
all but stopped.
Osborne Computer Corp. filed for bankruptcy in 1983. The PC pioneer was quoted as saying at the time that his announcement of a new machine was "a big mistake."
Osborne later launched Paperback Software, but one of his spreadsheet programs became the target of a lawsuit by Lotus Corp., which alleged it resembled Lotus' 1-2-3 spreadsheet. Lotus won the suit, and Osborne left Paperback Ventures to return to India.
Though he did try to nurture a few entrepreneurs here, Osborne largely disappeared from public view. It was not well-known that he had returned to India. Had it been known, he would have been considered by many Indians as a national treasure.
Osborne was born in Thailand to a British father and Polish mother who later moved to a home in south India. It was from here that Osborne went to the United Kingdom to study. From there he moved to the United States, where he lived in California for many years, beginning his career as a technical writer and eventually launching a publishing firm.
Osborne came to believe that computers needed to be portable if they were to gain wide acceptance. It was that conviction that created the Osborne 1.