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Subject: Adam Osborne, Portable Computer Pioneer

Dead at 64
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Date Posted: March 25, 2003 1:13:55 EDT

Adam Osborne, who co-founded a company that pioneered portable computers but met the same fate of countless future Silicon Valley firms that grew too quickly, has died. He was 64.

Osborne died in his sleep in Kodiakanal, India, on March 18, after a series of strokes caused by a brain disorder, his first wife, Cynthia Geddes, said Monday. He was buried Tuesday in India.

Geddes said Osborne constantly thought up new ideas, including the concept of a portable computer that launched in 1981 - the same year International Business Machines Corp. unveiled its personal desktop computer.

At the time, Osborne targeted the young Apple Computer Inc., which in the 1970s started selling computers that fit onto office and home desktops.

Osborne Computer Corp. became the fastest-growing Silicon Valley company shortly after the launch of the 24-pound, $1,795 Osborne 1. At its peak, it was selling at a rate of 10,000 a month.

But two years later, the company made a misstep that would plague many future firms. The Osborne 1's successor - dubbed Executive - was announced months before it was ready, causing shipments of the existing machine to plummet.

The company also faced an uphill battle against IBM, which introduced its PC in August 1981.

Company co-founder Lee Felsenstein said while Osborne had the ideas to create the company, he did not have the experience to run it after it matured.

"He wasn't a professional manager," Felsenstein said Monday. "He sort of found out the hard way you really needed to be one to make it go."

Though Osborne Computer did not survive, the idea of a portable computer did. Compaq Computer Corp. successfully introduced an IBM-compatible portable in 1982.

After Osborne Computer, he started a new firm Paperback Software International Ltd., which sold low-cost programs that mimicked higher-end software. But Lotus Development Corp. sued in 1987, alleging a Paperback product was too close to its 1-2-3 spreadsheet.

Lotus won the case in 1990.

After leaving Paperback, Osborne sought funding for startups in India. His brain disorder, which led to a series of small strokes, was diagnosed in 1992.

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