The Bizarre Fate Of The First Successful Portable Computer

Over the past few years, portability has been a critical component to business IT support, and employing lightweight computers that can be used anywhere in conjunction with Microsoft Teams and cloud databases has kept the biggest companies moving when their employees needed to stay at home.

Of course, the laptop and the idea of hotdesking with a computer you can use both in your office and on the move is not a new invention and can be traced back to the ‘luggable computer’, of which the most successful early example was the Osborne 1.

The Osborne weighed over 11kg and was the size of a sewing machine, but was a game-changer at the time as it cost significantly less than full-sized IBM Personal Computers of the day, yet could run a suite of effective business software, had two full-sized 5.25-inch floppy disk drives and a 5-inch screen.

It was exceptionally successful over the first two years of its release, selling at its peak over 10,000 computers per month after it was bundled with then-major database program dBase II.

However, Adam Osborne was worried about the growing number of competitors in the portable computer space, including companies such as Compaq and Commodore, so made a business decision so infamously disastrous it has since gone down in history.

He revealed to a select group of dealers and distributors that there were two prototypes that would become the follow-ups to the Osborne 1, known as the Executive and the Vixen respectively.

Once word got out, people cancelled their existing orders for the Osborne 1, turning the wildly successful startup computer company into one that simply could not sell anything, sending the company into a tailspin that it would not recover from until it declared bankruptcy in 1983.

This phenomenon would become infamous, and the Osborne Effect would forever be defined as the phenomenon of customers deferring or cancelling orders of a current product once a future product is announced before it is ready to sell.