Portable PC pioneer dies

25 Mar 2003

Adam Osborne, a Thai-born, Indian-reared Briton, who would eventually become one of the kings of Silicon Valley, has died in India at the age of 64.

Osborne will be best remembered as the person who launched the first portable personal computer, the Osborne 1, 22 years ago. The machine, though quickly overtaken by a superior machine from IBM, set the template for the personal computer that survives to the present day. Weighing nearly two stone, the Osborne 1 came with a suite of software including a word processor, spreadsheet, database and programming languages.

The machine was given a rapturous reception and customers began to line up. Orders taken by Osborne Computer Corporation in Hayward, California, leapt from 8,000 in 1981 to 110,000 in 1982.

Its success was short lived. The company announced a successor to the Osborne 1, the Executive, in 1982, which caused the demand for the first machine to collapse as customers hung on for the new model, causing a cashflow crisis. In September 1983 Osborne Computer Corporation was declared bankrupt. A failure to move quickly to a 16-bit microprocessor and lack of IBM compatibility also contributed to the company’s downfall, it is now believed.

A PhD in chemical engineering, Osborne was blessed with an enquiring, analytical mind. He was a self-taught computer programmer and set up a publishing company on computing, which he sold to McGraw Hill in 1979. He used the proceeds together with some venture capital to found Osborne in 1980.

After the company flopped, he went back into publishing by establishing Paperback Software International, which specialised in bundling inexpensive software with paperbacks. This project also failed after the company lost a copyright lawsuit taken by Lotus.

Osborne returned to India in 1992 where he remained until his death last week.

By Brian Skelly