Computers

Osborne Executive Introduced

Osborne ExecutiveApril 18, 1983

The Osborne Computer Corporation officially announced the Osborne Executive portable computer, the follow-up to its extremely successful Osborne 1. This is the computer that according to lore, took down the company. Known as the Osborne Effect, the legend is that by leaking the announcement of  this computer earlier in the year, dealers cancelled all orders for the Osborne 1, effectively destroying the company’s cashflow and hindering operations going forward. This resulted in the cancellation of the company’s IPO and eventually to bankruptcy.

The reality may not be so simple, but my research shows that the Osborne Effect may have been a contributing cause to the company’s demise, along with the rise of competitors, the introduction of the IBM PC, and mismanagement by the company’s president, brought in by investors to provide “adult supervision”.

Apple and Commodore

Apple II, Commodore PET, TRS-80April 16, 1977

On the same day at the first annual West Coast Computer Faire, both the Apple II and Commodore PET 2001 personal computers are introduced. Ironically, Commodore had previously rejected purchasing the Apple II from Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, deciding to build their own computers. Both computers used the same processor, the MOS 6502, but the companies had two different design strategies and it showed on this day. Apple wanted to build computers with more features at a higher price point. Commodore wanted to sell less feature-filled computers at a lower price point. The Apple II had color, graphics, and sound selling for $1298. The Commodore PET only had a monochrome display and was priced at $795.

Note, it was very difficult finding a picture with both an original Apple II (not IIe) and Commodore PET 2001. I could only find this picture that also includes the TRS-80, another PC introduced later in 1977.

PC Industry Born

West Coast Computer FaireApril 15, 1977

The first annual West Coast Computer Faire is held over three days in San Francisco, California, attended by 12,750 people. The Faire features the debut of the Apple II computer, which features 16KB of memory, BASIC, a built-in keyboard, eight expansion slots, and built-in high-resolution color graphics. Many credit this event and the launch of the Apple II as giving birth to the personal computer industry.

ENIAC Project Started

ENIACApril 10, 1943

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania begin work on the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), which when completed, will become the first general-purpose fully electronic computer, capable of making calculations one thousand times faster than any other prior computer. The work will be carried out in secret since the computer is intended for military purposes, though it won’t actually be completed until after World War II ended. ENIAC will be unveiled to the public in February 1946.

 

IBM System 360 Changes the Industry Forever

IBM System 360April 7, 1964

IBM launches the System 360 mainframe architecture, which comprised six compatible models complete with 40 peripherals. The line, dubbed the “360″ because it addressed all types and sizes of customer, cost IBM over five billion dollars to develop, and it is widely considered one of the riskiest business gambles of all time.

Up until this time, computer systems, even from the same manufacturer, were generally incompatible with each other. Software and peripherals from old systems would not work with new systems. This stifled acceptance and deployments of new systems as business customers were hesitant to lose their investments in their current systems. By developing a mutually compatible series of mainframes, customers were assured that their investments would not be lost if they purchased further System 360 models.

IBM’s gamble paid off handsomely, as in just the first three months of its release, IBM will receive US$1.2 billion in orders. Within five years, over thirty-three thousand units will be sold, popularizing the concept of a computer “upgrade” around the world. The 360 family was the most successful IBM system of all time, generating in over US$100 billion in revenue through the mid-1980’s. It became the basis for all sequent IBM mainframe architectures, which will hold a 65% marketshare in the 1990’s.

The 360 architecture also introduced a number of industry standards to the marketplace, such as the worldwide standard of the 8-bit byte. Its enormous popularity catapulted the business world into the technology age and transformed the computer industry. Not bad for a bunch of suits.

Microsoft’s First Hardware Product

Z-80 Card AdApril 2, 1980

Microsoft announces its first hardware product, the Z80 SoftCard. The SoftCard is a microprocessor that plugs into the Apple II personal computer allowing it to run programs written for the CP/M operating system. CP/M was a very popular OS for early personal computers along with much of the software written for it. In particular, the word processor WordStar is so popular that people will purchase the SoftCard and a companion “80-column card” just to run it on the Apple II. At one point, the SoftCard product will bring in about half of Microsoft’s total revenue. It will be discontinued in 1986 as CP/M’s popularity waned.

 

A is for Apple

Original Apple LogoApril 1, 1976

The Apple Computer company is formed by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in order to sell their personal computer kits, later known as the Apple I computer, launching the personal computer revolution. From this point on, the word “Apple” is associated as much for computers as it is for fruit.

UNIVAC Unveiled

UNIVACMarch 30, 1951

The first commercial computer, UNIVAC, is received by the US Census Bureau. Interestingly enough, the Census Bureau had driven the development of devices that eventually led to computers since the 1890’s and Herman Hollerith’s Punch Card Calculator.

TRS-80 Model 100 Introduced

TRS-80 Model 100March 29, 1983

Radio Shack introduces the TRS-80 Model 100, one of the first portable computers in a notebook-style form factor. The portability, simplicity, and built-in modem of the Model 100 made it very popular with journalists who could write stories in the field and transmit them back to their offices. Incidentally, in the early 90’s I acquired a Model 100 that had been used by a newspaper. I was able to use it to code simple programs, write papers, and use the modem to connect to bulletin board systems of the time. I recently found that I have 2 of these models among my tech junk – still in good working order! Good times, good times.

First Newsletter of the Homebrew Computer Club

homebrew_V1_01_p1March 15, 1975

Issue number one of the Homebrew Computer Club’s newsletter is published. Only 21 issues are published through December 1977, but the newsletter is considered influential in the early culture of the personal computer industry.