My first laptop computer

36 Comments

Columbia_vp_system_1Anyone who has read my published stuff for any length of time at all knows I am extremely passionate about mobile technology.  I have been trying, using and lugging mobile devices around for more time than I care to admit.  It is this obsession with mobile tech that led me to come up with my tag line that you see in the banner on this web site (and my signature on many discussion forums)- "..using mobile devices since they weighed 30 lbs".  I get a lot of responses from people who think that line is funny but let me tell you it’s the truth.  A brief email exchange today with Bill O’Brien of aliceandbill.com (he’s the one who is not Alice) got me thinking about it so I felt it time to ‘fess up about the tag line.

That tag line refers to my very first laptop computer- the Columbia Data Products VP.  This beauty was 30 pounds of pure steel and silicon and the first luggable computer that was an IBM PC clone.  It is rumored that Columbia got flack from IBM for cloning their PC and it was this trouble that caused the upstart Compaq to make sure they had a complete "clean room" reverse engineering of the IBM so their ROM would stand up in a legal fight.  The Columbia is long gone- I don’t even remember what happened to it but for two years I carried that beast back and forth once a month between Caracas, Venezuela (where I was working at the time) and Houston, Texas in the US.  This behemoth was huge and since it was too fragile to be checked as luggage it had to go into the overhead compartment on each flight.  Had we ever had the overhead door open during a flight I guarantee you someone would have been killed when the VP came flying out!

The VP had a 5" green CRT screen that was text only, of course.  And not one, but TWO floppy drives for storage.  And the storage area above the floppy drives was a benefit few other computers of that era offered.  All in all the VP worked flawlessly as an IBM clone and I never had a lick of trouble with it.  It was a real workhorse and despite the sad specs I got a lot of work out of that puppy.  It is also the most likely reason for my eventually having two back surgeries later in life.  But it was mobile, and it was a computer, and it worked.  I remember the fun trying to run Ashton Tate’s Framework on the VP.  Framework was the s/w that integrated office apps (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.) into a windowing GUI-like environment under DOS.  Wow, those were true pioneer days.

So, as you can see, I have really have been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 lbs.

36 Comments

Lyle Van Camp

Stephen,
We bought a VP in early 1984, Manufacturing date is 1/1984 it served as our typesetting system using a program called RimWriter. We output to an original HP Laserjet, supposedely the third one shipped out of Minneapolis – we had our choice of taking a serial port unit or waiting for one of the “new” parallel ones! We took the serial unit.
The VP still should work. I dug it out this morning, found the Perfect manuals in their slips but I think I may have thrown the disks. Just over a year ago if I did. The VP had a memory expansion unit which I removed to try use a multifunction card for even more ram! If I remember correctly the two clashed. Should still have that memory expansion card around though.
Thanks,
Lyle Van Camp

jk

Stephen, what bundled software are you referring to? I don’t remember any s/w with the VP- it was just too long ago.

Stephen E. Somerville

I was the senior operations manager at Columbia Data Products from 1982 to 1984. My production team built and shipped about 2,000 VP’s a month during that time. I still have one buried in my closet. Wish I could find the “perfect” bundled software that came with it. I’d pay big to find that software somewhere on the net. Anyway, those days were indeed heady times. BIG BONUSES, all expense trips for the senior staff in Vegas, and bahamas, the champange flowed like water. We were making money hand over fist, then one day, all of the sudden, I was told to layoff 400 production line workers. I ONE DAY! I quit 2 weeks later and never looked back. But I’ll never forget those times. We took Kaypros apart, as well as commodores, compaqs, and anybody elses where we could see a better idea, cheaper method, any item to drive a higher margin. I remember sitting at a conference room table with the guts of all our competitors machines hanging out, and saying to the rest of the senior staff, “guys, there is no more profit in this box, we’ve trimmed everything we can”. I remember the press coming to the company. An expedition team was taking one of our VP’s to the top of mount everest to plot wind, conditions, etc. and the entire company was wearing tee shirts that read “Columbia Data Products, computers that can climb mountains”. Geeez, those were heady times, we had the world by the balls.
Steve

Mike Cane

Well, geez, if you’re going to bring calculators into the picture, then don’t we have to go back to Commodore, which I believe also produced them before jumping into “proper” desktop units?

jk

Actually, I think the first handheld computer was the old TI-59 calculator that had a magnetic strip card reader for saving and loading programs and could be outfitted with an optional strip printer.

“1977 TI Programmable 59*. This advanced programmable calculator offered users 960 program steps or up to 100 memories, and it was the first TI calculator to offer both magnetic card storage and interchangeable, plug-in Solid State Software[tm] modules with up to 5,000 program steps. More than 175 functions and operations. Master library with 25 programs included; optional software libaries, thermal printer/plotter and Professional Program Exchange available. SRP $299.95. ”

Picture here:

http://jkontherun.blogs.com/ti_59.gif

Mike Cane

It took asking a former co-worker from back in the wee 80s, but I managed to find what is probably the FIRST handheld computer!

http://www.skybuilders.com/Users/Bob/Bios/BioPics.html

— scroll down to:

1980-84, VP, Chief Scientist, iXO, invented Telecomputer, a handheld computer terminal with built-in phone-line-powered modem (cover of Byte magazine, 1982).

Mike Cane

>>>…hit print, and go take a shower.

Me too! Hahaha! I had mine in a room reserved for work, so I could at least shut the door.

Amazing when I see laser printers for >$200 now. The first Apple Laserwiter cost FIVE GRAND!!

Kevin C. Tofel

OK, I goofed on the VisiCalc date, but of course, I was only about 10 years old at the time. Let’s see if I can redeem myself on Steve’s printer comment: was your printer made by Okidata? I had one of the first color printers for a home PC: the Okidata Okimate 10. It had a 4 color ribbon cartridge about the size of a VCR tape, so it had to go over every print area 4 times!

;>)

KCT

Steve

My daisy wheel printer was a Brother, and I glued together an acoustic muffler of foam rubber because of the noise. It took about 45 minutes to print out 10 pages. 12 characters per second always felt like 12 characters per minute. Finish a project, hit print, and go take a shower.

Mike Cane

I did *massive* WP on my C64 with EasyScript and printing out to a — oh, the noise! — *daisywheel* printer (I forget the brand now; not Juki, not that teeny Smith Corona… maybe it was Brother?). Man, I went through *thousands* (no lie!) of pages. Hmmm…. is OQO using the same manufacturer that did the notorious Commodore 1541 disk drive? Hah!

Steve

Wait a minute, JK, the 102 wasn’t just a word processor (although Tandy offered one that was a couple of years later the same size). You could program it in BASIC to do all kinds of primitive stuff. My memory is that the Osborne O1 and the Kaypros were about 28 pounds. My Osborne antedated the green screen, had half, and then a quarter of the disk space (as double density, and then double sided double density took over) and held all of 90kb, and had a whopping 64kb of memory on the motherboard. Osborne went under as they announced an IBM compatible in the works and sales immediately dried up for their until-that-moment highly successful O1. 64Kb was double the 32 my father had on his Apple II, which was double the one he trained on, which was double the original. The O1 was “bundled” (a new use of the word in those days) with the C/PM operating system, Wordstar, Supercalc (a Visicalc knock off), CBASIC, MBASIC, and later AShton Tate’s dBase II, and you could add on a 300 baud modem, than which you could read faster. And the floppies proliferated faster than wire hangers or bunnies. The 102 had the delightful feature that you could save your work with a tape recorder on a cassette tape, and they sold little ten and fifteen minute tapes to separate projects and not have to wait for rewinds. An 8 line 40 column display. The O1 display scrolled sideways to show you the end of your line as you typed because it would only showed a 24 line by 40 column display. I suspect I’ve needed at least two operations on my brain as a result of my little work horse O1. Might still invest in those operations.

Alslayer

That device looks just like my old portable Commodore64. Course I was 6 years old and it was my father’s hand me down.

:)

jk

BTW Bill, maybe I should get a sidekick for jkOTR. I’ve been thinking it would help get a fresh perspective on tech stuff. I’ll ask Alice how getting a sidekick worked for her. :)

jk

Mike- you’re welcome. Perhaps you ARE ancient. :)

Anthony- this was around 1983 near as I can remember. The CDP actually predated the Compaq by a year or so.

anthonybuchanan

What year was this owned by you ?
I remember developing mainframe based insurance applications that would take data from these (I think we were using Compaq though), upload the data to the mainframe, and then process the applications using the normal mainframe application process however those programs had been automated.
I did this in 1986/1987.

Mike Cane

I had wondered what the 30lb beast was. Thought it had to be an Osborne or KayPro. But wasn’t sure of their weight. Ho! Framework! Ah, those were the days. Jack Tramiel at Commdodore, conquering the world with the VIC-20 and Commodore-64 (this latter for all of us — like, me! — who couldn’t afford a y Apple!)! Atari morphing into home computers.

Thanks for making me feel ancient… especially with the year coming to an end! Hah!

PA

My neighbor had this luggable computer.

My parent’s were forward thinking back in 1980…

In elementary school, they bought me a Franklin ACE 1200 (Apple IIe clone) and it started be down this path (unknowningly).

They still have it at there house. :)

Thanks for the memory!

jk

Oh yeah, the Apple Backpack! I had forgotten about that. I did actually use a third party snap-on LCD screen with an Apple IIe but the screen was so bad I ditched it, that’s why I don’t count it.

Bill O'Brien

“The one who’s not Alice….?”
Cheeze whiz again.

BTW: Visicalc preceded the VP by about 4 years. Sold a bushel of Apples thanks to it -and Space Invaders. And let’s not forget that the Mac was insinuated to be portable as well. I think it may have weighed just a little less than my Osborne 1, even with Apple’s backpack. ;-)

Bill O'Brien

“The one who’s not Alice….?”
Cheeze whiz again.

BTW: Visicalc preceded the VP by about 4 years. Sold a bushel of Apples thanks to it -and Space Invaders. And let’s not forget that the Mac was insinuated to be portable as well. I think it may have weighed just a little less than my Osborne 1, even with Apple’s backpack. ;-)

Bill O'Brien

“The one who’s not Alice….?”
Cheeze whiz again.

BTW: Visicalc preceded the VP by about 4 years. Sold a bushel of Apples thanks to it -and Space Invaders. And let’s not forget that the Mac was insinuated to be portable as well. I think it may have weighed just a little less than my Osborne 1, even with Apple’s backpack. ;-)

Kevin C. Tofel

Wow…back when VisiCalc and Excel weren’t even born yet. Better yet, that’s when floppy drives really WERE floppy! I remember taking 5 1/4 disks and using a hole punch to make my disks “double sided”! Great nostalgia….thanks!

Bill O'Brien

“The one who’s not Alice….?”
Cheeze whiz again.

BTW: Visicalc preceded the VP by about 4 years. Sold a bushel of Apples thanks to it -and Space Invaders. And let’s not forget that the Mac was insinuated to be portable as well. I think it may have weighed just a little less than my Osborne 1, even with Apple’s backpack. ;-)

Bill O'Brien

“The one who’s not Alice….?”
Cheeze whiz again.

BTW: Visicalc preceded the VP by about 4 years. Sold a bushel of Apples thanks to it -and Space Invaders. And let’s not forget that the Mac was insinuated to be portable as well. I think it may have weighed just a little less than my Osborne 1, even with Apple’s backpack. ;-)

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