As I started in sales a decade before the invention of the personal computer, I can attest that the most important organizational tool for salespeople in those days was the paper notebook. List making, calendaring, opportunity tracking—all of it was scratched down on paper. When the PC arrived on the scene, salespeople were early adopters, although not all of them, as we are talking serious cash to purchase a machine that was capable and portable. Portability was high on the list of must haves for salespeople, so you could carry your office with you on the road.
I think most computer historians claim the Osborne to be the first truly portable device (1981), with a five-inch monitor and a weight of 24 pounds. Here is a picture of a successful salesperson off to work with their Osborne.
I did not have an Osborne, but I had a machine that was roughly the same footprint, although arriving nine years later with much more developed technology. This was the IBM PS/2 P70 which cost me $5k (ouch) in 1990 dollars.
These computers were “luggable” rather than portable. I went through a number of different weights and sizes, but one of my favorites was “the Brick.”
The idea of the brick was to put the computer into a very small package (3″ x 8″ x 11″), which could then be transported. When you got to the office you plugged in your keyboard, monitor, and printer and started work. This was in 1990. I loved it, although you had to hold your breath when you plugged it into the docking station, which had a gazillion connectors, anyone of which, if bent, could bring the system down. The Brick, I suppose, gave Apple the idea for the Mac Mini.
Which brings me to my current and favourite computer, the Apple Macbook Air, the 13-inch version. I think it sits at the sweet spot for portability, capability and usability. As usual, Apple invented this genre of ultra slim laptops, and the MBA is still the unchallenged leader. I think the latest generation of tablets will change this though. Microsoft is off in the right direction, blurring the distinction between desktop and mobile operating systems. I’m checking out the new Surface RT and writing about my experiences in another set of posts.
James Fallows writes for The Atlantic, and like me has a passion for hardware and software tools that help him be productive. This article is a light-hearted look at his first attempt with word processing around 1982. It makes a good read.