Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Osborne 1

The Osborne 1 was a portable CP/M computer with a Z-80 processor. It looked like a portable sewing machine. You tip it on its side and undo the latches and the end would come off revealing a keyboard which was attached to the rest of the machine by a wide ribbon cable. Removing the keyboard revealed two large floppy drives, a tiny 5 inch screen, cubbies for floppy disks, and a bunch of ports. We would plug the RS-232 cable from the paper punch into one of the ports.

The 5 inch screen could only display 52 characters wide, but it could scroll. You had to have a tolerance for reading very small type to use this machine. I was okay with it, but today I probably wouldn't enjoy it.

Aside from editing CNC programs, we also had MBASIC on these machines and so we could do a little programming to help us with our work. Bob knew how to write in BASIC and he had written a few things. For example there was a program for spitting out a simple routing program for a rectangular board. You just punch in the size of the board and it would generate a file. Anything more complex than that required manual coding.

One problem we had with the Osborne 1 machines we had was that the keyboard bezel was metal and it wasn't grounded well. If you walked up to the computer and touched the keyboard it wasn't unusual to discharge some static electricity and reset the computer, losing whatever work you were doing.

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