Lou Anderson on Friday, April 06, 2007
I purchased my Osborne in February, 1982 - it cost $2595.00 (Canadian) - and the single density single
sided floppies (capacity 90K) it used ran $5 each. An Epson MX-80 dot-matrix printer I picked up at
the same time was around $900.00. How times have changed.
The machine had the maximum possible 64K of RAM when most machines had 16K or 32K. It
also came with Wordstar, SuperCalc, MBASIC, and CBASIC - all this and its “portability” were key
reasons for my choice.
In later promotional packages the machine came with DBASE II as well. This was the one piece of
ultra software at the time and I yearned for it. I finally got it with one of the used machines - but as
it turned out I used it very little.
I used the Osborne as my main computer until late 1986 - and continued to use it as a
“portable” until 1988; I used it after that but not regularly. I acquired two additional used Osbornes
over the years. I endured considerable ribbing about the size of the screen - but I never found it a
problem. The Osborne was my introduction to computing and taught me a lot - and I retain fond
memories of it. In the following paragraphs I am noting a few of the quirks that I remember.
At the time the machine was considered portable - but at 26 pounds it was really
“transportable”. Nevertheless I lugged it to a lot of locations.
Connecting up that printer to the Osborne was a major problem; the printer had the standard
Centronics input - the Osborne had only an IEEE-488 connector as an output. Maybe there were
cables for this around, but I had to make mine - and it took me a lot of figuring and trial and error
before I finally made one that worked.
The chief problem I recall was that the floppy drives gave me trouble after a while and had to
be occasionally replaced. The first machine had SSSD floppies that could hold 90K; normally you had
to have a program disk in drive A and your data disk in drive B.
The Wordstar word processor automatically created a .BAK file which meant that for practical
purposes you were limited to creating a maximum file size of 45K.
Another quirk that mainly affected the Wordstar word processing was that you could only write
to a disk that had already been “logged on”. Opening a drive door cancelled the logon. So if you wrote
a lot of text and then found you didn’t have enough room on the disk you were in a “Catch-22". You
couldn’t save what you had in memory and you couldn’t log on to a new disk without losing the
memory. Some hero devised a utility that would let you recover - I believe it was called MAGE (no
idea of the significance of this name). You exited from Wordstar (the material was still in memory) and
then called up this utility which looked at and saved the Wordstar memory area. Some touch-up was
needed but it saved me quite a few times.
I also used the MBASIC supplied with the machine considerably. I probably tried the CBASIC
but never really used it. Around 1984 I got Turbo Pascal from Borland and it became my main
programming language. Another Osborne quirk: Turbo had an interactive editor/compiler - but it
wouldn’t work with a single density Osborne (don’t ask me why). When I picked up an Osborne with
double density drives everything in Turbo worked fine.
I used the SuperCalc that came with the Osborne considerably - but don’t remember any
After I acquired an IBM clone in 1986 I used the Osbornes primarily as portables. The clone
couldn’t read Osborne disks but I got a utility that let me write to IBM-formatted diskettes (single sided)
in the Osborne so I could transfer data files back and forth.
Another point with disks some may remember: in the pre-IBM days each computer
manufacturer had his own disk format. In general you had a great deal of difficulty transferring
information from one machine to another since an Osborne wouldn’t read TRS-80 or NorthStar disks
(for example) - there were conversion programs around