Kaypro Computer History

From: John Lawson <jpl15_at_netcom.com>
Date: Tue Sep 28 23:38:13 1999

On Tue, 28 Sep 1999, Phil Clayton wrote:

  Ummmmm.... a different view of Recent History:

> Kaypro Computer and Non-Linear Systems
> After Adam Osborne came out with the O-1, it was immediately set up as a
> target. Every company started shooting at the magic price of $1800.
> Among the people to set their sights at this figure was Alan Kay. Alan
> had originally started a company which sold oscilloscopes called
> Non-Linear Systems.

   I had an NLS Digital DC Voltmeter from 1955, and I *think* the
company was started in the year 1952... my NLS Docs are buried right
now and it's too late to go digging. The scopes came much later in
the company's history. Non Linear Systems made just that.. digital
sub-systems and test equipment. And I might add, hugely succesful
test equipment.

  Allison, you recall any of this?

> He decided Osborne had the right idea, but needed a
> little tweaking on the case. He envisioned a computer which would not
> only be rugged enough to be carried around, but would be tough enough to
> be carried out in the field by engineers. With this idea in mind, he
> designed the Kaypro Computer.
 I believe it was the son, (David??) Kay, who convinced the company to
get into the computer market, as NLS was looking around for ways to
shore up it's eroding core markets.

  IMHO, the Osborne case was probably less vulnerable than the
el-cheapo gang-punch-and-brake construction of the Kaypros.

> The case was made of aluminum which allowed it to be extremely rugged,
> but still save a little weight. These are sometimes nicknamed "Darth
> Vader's lunch box." Needless to say, this case passed the test for
> ruggedness.

   And that 'test' would be... ? Specs? ASTM? IEEE?

 Except for the Robie and later DOS machines, all Kaypros
> had the same case and varying shades of gray paint.

 I sold Kaypros in the early 80's.. lots of them. The 'fit and
finish' was fair to lousy, and it got worse as the company got in
deeper and deeper over it's head.

  The motherboard was right beneath the top cover, and one good
ding wiped it out... airlines were hell on them. Then there was the
brilliance of having the keyboard connector on the rear panel where,
of course, it belonged.

> All the computers came bundled with software, originally the Perfect
> Series, but later WordStar and
> SuperCalc.

  And nicely-done system documentation for the time... I always
liked the Kaypro books... not full of bafflegab like many companies'.

> Kay originally sold his computers under the company name of Kaypro, but
> it turned out this name had already been taken. He then sold the
> computers under the Non-Linear name, but was able to keep the Kaypro
> name on the computers. Somewhere along the way, he did manage to acquire
> the rights to Kaypro Company, but it was late in the company's life.

     In the years I was a dealer and warranty station, I never heard
that... where did this info come from?

> The Kaypro II is the oldest computer Kaypro made. It has SSDD disks and
> the screen is green and it has the standard 64 K of RAM.

> Kaypro 10
> Next was the original Kaypro 10. It came with 1 DS/DD floppy drive, a 10
> meg HD, a 4.0 MHz Z-80A, two serial ports, light pen port, rudimentary
> graphics, a real time clock, and software from Perfect
> Software and dBase II. Introduced mid-83.

  This, IMHO, was the beginning of the end for the Kays. They made a
deal with Lal Tandon to put Tandon HDs (made in Mother India) in the
10s... and we experienced a nearly %80 DOA/infant mortality on them.
  Kaypro, at that time, had production lines under big tents in the
parking lots down in Solana Beach, trying to keep up with demand. If
a customer walked in the lobby with a dead 10, they were given
another, often with no questions asked... I sent dozens of folks
down there and drove many units down (from Los Angeles) myself. It
was a nightmare and we soon dropped the line.
  Thay had a promotion where, upon ordering, the customer could have
his/her name engraved on the back beneath the handle... what
actually happened was that the final inspection person took one of
those vibrating carbide-tip engraver-tools and scrawled the name
longhand, right thru the paint... It really impressed someone who
had just dropped a Lot Of Money on one of these things.. :)

  As I wrote, I haven't time now to actually get out the docs and
give you dates and pages, but my experience/recollections seem to be
a little divergent...

  And I remember that NLS DVM... it had three digits and a manual
range switch.. it was a pot-nulling design that used a bank of
multi-pole stepping switches to balance the bridge... it was called
(oddly enough) the Box-of-Snakes Meter... even though the inside of
the case was lined with dense felt padding, you could still hear it
across the room, and with every change in voltage, it re-nulled all
over again. The readout was made of clear Lucite rectangles with a
digit engraved on each one, 0-9. These stacks were then edge-lit by
tiny #327 lamps driven from a bank on the stepper switches, so that
the readout was wierdly three-dimensional looking. A clever design
during the time when digital displays were usually a column of
digits side-by-side, using neon lamps. Mine was made in '55, BTW. I
had it in Jr. High.

  I have a big NLS catalog from the 60's, full of the wonderful
stuff they made... when it's found I'll post some more info if

  I *do* love the Kaypro II and the 10 I have... the II was the
machine I learned CP/M and Wordstar on.. and the 10 was the machine
I couldn't afford back then... 10 Whole Megabytes... who could
possibly ever use all that?


Received on Tue Sep 28 1999 - 23:38:13 BST

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