The Computer That Lost Sales, to its Future Self


The Osborne 1 was an early personal computer that came bundled with the equivalent of $1500 in 1980’s money worth of software. It was well received by critics and egg heads alike, but then the company shit the bed by announcing its technologically superior successor while they were still trying to sell it.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Osborne 1, it was a groundbreaking device known for being the first commercially successful portable microcomputer. Portable in this sense meaning that it was small enough to be carried around without being built like an offensive linesman. To be clear the Osborne 1 still needed to be physically plugged in, but could be carried around in a fetching purpose built case that made you look like a moderately successful douchebag while holding it.

A steal at just $1750!

Released in 1981, the Osborne 1 retailed at around $2000 if you wanted all the cool optional shit like a battery pack that turned it into a pseudo-laptop. However, the cost was generally thought to be worth it since the computer came with about $1500 worth of free software. Remember, this was the 80’s and things like Chromebooks and Piratebay didn’t exist yet so this was a fucking amazing deal at the time.

Sales reflected this and in the first year of the Osborne 1 was in stores, Osborne Computer Corporation sold 11,000 of these things and received orders for about 50,000 more. With orders coming out the wazoo and investors practically punching the front door of the building down to throw money at the executives, the company made millions in profits over the next two years. As a side-effect, the company’s founder, Adam Osborne became something of a celebrity, being hailed as that eras Steve Jobs or some shit. You know, even though Steve Jobs and Apple were already a thing and selling computers at the same time.

You have no idea if this is even the right guy, do you?

In 1983 though, sales began to dip and Osborne decided to drum up some positive column inches about his company by secretly previewing a prototype model of their next device to a bunch of journalists in a hotel room. Dubbed, the Osborne Executive, the computer was better in near every conceivable way to the Osborne 1 and you better believe Osborne hyped the shit out of it. He also told journalists about an even better computer tentatively called the Osborne Vixen that would shit all over them both.

To his credit Osborne did tell journalists not to print anything about his company planning to release a superior version of the same computer they were selling for the price of a used car until the company planned to release it, but dealers still found out. Because of course they did.

Almost immediately after previewing the new device to journalists dealers began cancelling their orders, because why the fuck would they continue selling the Osborne 1 when a few months later they could be selling the Executive?

Yours for only $2750!

This was a problem because the company was relying on the profits it was going to make selling the Osborne 1 to develop and produce the Executive. The company went into damage control mode and previewed the Executive directly to dealers a few weeks later assuring them that the computer wasn’t a direct competitor to the Osborne 1. Dealers who hadn’t already cancelled their orders saw through this thinly veiled corporate jargon and similarly decided not to buy any Osborne 1’s.

With thousands of the computers now sat in warehouses around the country, Osborne tried to shift units by slashing the price. When this didn’t work they slashed it again and again until they were selling them for $900 a piece, less than the cost of the software on it. Still, nobody would buy one, because again, why the fuck would they when the same company selling it were planning on releasing one that was superior to it in every single way like half a year later? According to one source, during this period sales were “practically non-existent” and hundreds of employees were laid off. Adam Osborne himself tried to spin this by claiming that the company was simply looking “very, very carefully at manpower loadings”. The media similarly saw through this bullshit and no amount of sales could remove the smell of blood from the sharks circling the company as it sunk further and further into the toilet.

A few months after that, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.