Portable Computer

Portable computers are more convenient than stationary computers. They increase productivity for people who travel, allow office workers to bring work home, and enable telecommuting.


Portable computers were developed at (where else), Xerox PARC. The Xerox NoteTaker, released in 1978, was the first portable computer. Staying true to Xerox tradition, only about ten were built and the project abandoned.

In April 2981, Adam Osborne, a frequent visitor to the Homebrew Computer Club released the first production portable computer, the Osborne I. The Homebrew Computer is where Wozniak and Jobs dreamt up the Apple. The Osborne was clunky but functional, with a 5-inch screen, 64Kb memory, two floppy disk drives, and a full-size keyboard. It weighed 10.7kg (23.5 pounds), cost $1,795 (about $5,000 in 2019), and used the then-popular CP/M operating system.

Despite far less power and memory than what today is a throwaway flip-phone, the Osborne sold well, moving 125,000 units in 1982.

Storm clouds were on the horizon when IBM released its first portable computer, the IBM-PC, on August 12, 1981.

Osborne announced plans to build a portable PC. The promised new computer decimated sales of the prior unit. Startup Compaq, founded by three former Texas Instrument executives, released the first IBM-PC compatible driving Osborne into bankruptcy.


Founded in 1982, Compaq captured the market with the first IBM-compatible mass-market portable computer, released in 1983, the Compaq Plus Portable. It featured a nine-inch screen, 128Kb RAM, shock-proof disk drives, and the newly released MS-DOS operating system. The price was $4,995 (about $12,850 in 2019). Apparently, buyers of portable computers were not especially price sensitive.

Compaq thrived selling high-end PC’s until they started to struggle, in 1998. In response, they purchased Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC). That made no difference and the “high-end” computer maker continued to stumble in a market where PC’s were commoditized. In 2002, HP acquired Compaq for $25 billion in 2002, a merger often cited as one of the worst in history.

Alta Vista

While focused on machines and mergers, Compaq/DEC executives ignored an offer from two Stanford students to sell groundbreaking search technology to Compaq/DEC wholly-owned search engine Alta Vista for $1 million. Yahoo also turned the students down, forcing them to forge ahead and build their own business. In 2019 that business, Google, is worth approximately $830 billion.