Kaypro



Kaypro Corporation was an American home/personal computer manufacturer of the 1980s. The company was founded by Non-Linear Systems to develop computers to compete with the then-popular Osborne 1 portable microcomputer. Kaypro produced a line of rugged, “luggable” CP/M-based computers sold with an extensive software bundle which supplanted its competitors and quickly became one of the top selling personal computer lines of the early 1980s. While exceptionally loyal to its original consumer base, Kaypro was slow to adapt to the changing computer market and the advent of IBM PC compatible technology. It faded from the mainstream before the end of the decade and was eventually forced into filing for bankruptcy in 1992. Kaypro began as Non-Linear Systems, a maker of electronic test equipment, founded in 1952 by Andrew Kay, the inventor of the digital voltmeter. In the 1970s, NLS was an early adopter of microprocessor technology, which enhanced the flexibility of products such as production-line test sets. In 1981, Non-Linear Systems began designing a personal computer, called KayComp, that would compete with the popular Osborne 1 transportable microcomputer. In 1982, Non-Linear Systems organized a daughter company named the Kaypro Corporation.

Despite being the first model to be released commercially, the original system was branded as the Kaypro II (one of the most popular microcomputers at the time was the Apple II). The Kaypro II was designed to be portable like the Osborne. (“Portable” at this time meant the system was contained in a single enclosure with a handle for carrying. The standard Kaypro II was powered by AC only. When battery-powered laptop computers became available, the larger machines came to be called transportable or luggable, rather than portable.) Set in an aluminum case with a keyboard that snapped onto the front covering the 9″ CRT display and drives, it weighed 29 lbs and was equipped with a Zilog Z80 microprocessor, 64 kilobytes of RAM, and two 5¼-inch double-density floppy disk drives. It ran on Digital Research, Inc.’s CP/M operating system, and sold for about US $1,795 ().The company advertised the Kaypro II as “the $1595 computer that sells for $1595”. Although the press mocked its design—one magazine described Kaypro as “producing computers packaged in tin cans” —by mid-1983 the company was selling more than 10,000 units a month, briefly making it the fifth-largest computer maker in the world.The Kaypro II was part of a new generation of consumer-friendly personal computers that were designed to appeal to novice users who wanted to perform basic productivity on a machine that was relatively easy to set up and use. It managed to correct most of the Osborne 1’s deficiencies: the screen was larger, the floppy drives stored over twice as much data, the case was more attractive-looking, and it was also much better-built and more reliable. Computers such as the Kaypro II were widely referred to as “appliance” or “turnkey” machines; they offered little in the way of expandability or features that would interest hackers or electronics hobbyists and were mainly characterized by their affordable price and a collection of bundled software. The boxy units were so popular that they spawned a network of hobbyist user groups across the United States that provided local support for Kaypro products; the company worked with the user groups and would have a salesman drop by if in the area. Kaypro’s success contributed to the eventual failure of the Osborne Computer Corporation and Morrow Designs. A much more rugged seeming, “industrialized” design than competitors such as the Osborne made the Kaypro popular for commercial/industrial applications. Its RS232 port was widely used by service technicians for on-site equipment configuration, control and diagnostics. The version of CP/M included with the Kaypro could also read the Xerox 810’s single-sided, single-density 86k floppy format. Theoretically, any soft-sector MFM floppy format could be read if the user wrote his own utility program. Kaypro published and subsidized ProFiles: The Magazine for Kaypro Users, a monthly, 72-page, four-color magazine that went beyond coverage of Kaypro’s products to include substantive information on CP/M and MS-DOS; frequent contributors included Ted Chiang, David Gerrold, Robert J. Sawyer, and Ted Silveira. Another popular magazine that covered Kaypro computers was Micro Cornucopia, published at Bend, Oregon. Arthur C. Clarke used a Kaypro II to write and collaboratively edit (via modem from Sri Lanka) his 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two and the later film adaptation. A book, The Odyssey File – The Making of 2010, was later released about the collaboration. Following the success of the Kaypro II, Kaypro moved on to produce a long line of similar computers into the mid-1980s. Exceedingly loyal to its original core group of customers, Kaypro continued using the CP/M operating system long after it had been abandoned by its competitors. In late 1984, Kaypro introduced its first IBM PC compatible, the Kaypro 16 transportable. While admitting that “it’s what our dealers asked for”, the company stated that it would continue to produce its older computers. This was followed by other PC compatibles: the Kaypro PC, Kaypro 286i (the first 286 IBM PC AT compatible), the Kaypro 386, and the Kaypro 2000 (a rugged aluminum-body battery-powered laptop with a detachable keyboard). The slow start into the IBM clone market would have serious ramifications. After several turbulent years, with sales dwindling, Kaypro filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 1990. Despite restructuring, the company was unable to recover and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June 1992. In 1995, its remaining assets were sold for $2.7 million. The Kaypro name briefly re-emerged as an online vendor of Microsoft Windows PCs in 1999, but was discontinued in 2001 by its parent company Premio Inc. because of sluggish sales.



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