My first 'laptop' -- all 30 pounds of it

ZDNet's 20th anniversary: An incredible milestone in this business sends me careening down memory lane with abandon. My first laptop was a 30-pound behemoth.

The 20th anniversary of ZDNet, besides being an incredible milestone in this business, sends me careening down memory lane with abandon. I have been covering mobile tech for a long time, and using it even longer than ZDNet has been around. The tag line I've been using a long time is not an exaggeration:

...using mobile devices since they weighed 30 lbs.

The gadget that 30 pounds refers to is the first "laptop" I ever used, the Columbia Data Products VP. This steel box couldn't operate very far from a power outlet, about three feet if memory serves me correctly, but it had a handle for carrying from one place to another so the term "mobile" does apply.

It is rumored that Columbia got in trouble with IBM for cloning the PC, and it was this trouble that caused upstart Compaq to make sure they had a complete "clean room" reverse engineering of the IBM so their ROM would stand up to a legal fight. The VP was an indestructible steel monster, and for several years I carried this beast back and forth at least once a month between Caracas, Venezuela (where I was working at the time) and Houston.  In spite of being pure metal and silicon, it was too fragile to be checked as luggage on flights so it had to go into the overhead compartment on all flights.  If one of those flights had turbulence that caused the overhead door to open during a flight I guarantee you someone would have been killed when the VP came flying out!

The VP had a massive 5-inch green CRT that was a text display, and not one, but two floppy drives for data storage. The floppy disk storage area above the floppy drives was a benefit few other computers of that era offered.  The VP worked well as an IBM clone and I never had a lick of trouble with it.  It was a real workhorse and despite the sad specs I got a lot of work out of that behemoth.

The 30-pound weight is also the most likely reason for my eventually having two back surgeries later in life.  But the VP was mobile, and it was a computer, and it worked.  I remember the fun trying to run Ashton Tate’s Framework on the VP.  Framework was the software suite that integrated office apps (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.) into a windowing GUI-like environment under DOS.

Happy anniversary ZDNet, and thanks for the opportunity to contribute to such a fine organization. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, too. To the next 20 years!

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