Kaypro Corporation was an American home computer/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.
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 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 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 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, retrieved 2014-09-10
Another popular magazine that covered Kaypro computers was Micro Cornucopia retrieved 2014-09-10
Arthur C. Clarke used a Kaypro II to write and collaboratively edit (via modem from Sri Lanka) his 1982 novel 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.US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (2000) Arrow Electronics v. Justus 9955210 . Retrieved April. 1, 2006.
The outer case is constructed of painted aluminium. The computer features a large detachable keyboard unit that covers the display device and disk drives when stowed. The computer could fit into an airline overhead rack. This and other Kaypro computers (except for the Kaypro 2000) run off regular AC mains power and are not equipped with a battery.
The Kaypro IV and later the Kaypro 4 have two double-sided disks. The Kaypro 4 was released in 1984, and was usually referred to as Kaypro 4 '84, as opposed to the Kaypro IV, released one year earlier and referred to as Kaypro IV '83. The Kaypro IV uses different screen addresses than the Kaypro II, meaning software has to be specific to the model.
The Kaypro 10 followed the Kaypro II, and is much like the Kaypro II and Kaypro 4, with the addition of a 10 byte hard drive (dually partitioned A: and B:) and replacing one of the two floppy drives (the remaining drive being addressed as C:). The Kaypro 10 also eliminated the complicated procedures to turn the computer on and off often associated with hard disk technology.
Kaypro later replaced their CP/M machines with the MS-DOS-based Kaypro 16, Kaypro PC and others, as the IBM PC and its clones gained popularity. Kaypro was late to the market, however, and never gained the kind of prominence in the MS-DOS arena that it had enjoyed with CP/M. Instead, Kaypro watched as a new company—Compaq—grabbed its market with the Compaq Portable, an all-in-one portable computer that was similar to Kaypro's own CP/M portables with the exception of running MS-DOS with near 100% IBM PC compatibility. The Compaq was larger and less durable—whereas the Kaypro had a heavy-gauge alumininum case, the Compaq case was plastic, with a thin-gauge aluminum inner shield to reduce radio frequency interference—but rapidly took over the portable PC market segment.
The 1985 introductions of the Kaypro 286i, the first IBM PC AT clone, and the Kaypro 2000, one of the first laptop computers (an MS-DOS system with monochrome liquid crystal display and durable aluminum case), did little to change Kaypro's fortunes. Kaypro's failure in the MS-DOS market and other corporate issues helped lead to the company's eventual downfall.
Perfect Writer was initially a rebranded version of the MINCE and Scribble software packages from Mark of the Unicorn, which are CP/M implementations of Emacs and Scribe, ported from their original minicomputer-based versions using BDS C. Later, MBasic (a variant of Microsoft Basic) and The Word Plus spellchecker were added to the model II suite of software. Word Plus included a set of utilities that could help solve or , insert soft hyphens, alphabetize word lists, and compute word frequencies. Another utility program called Uniform allowed the Kaypro to read disks formatted by Osborne, Xerox, or TRS-80 computers.
The initial bundled applications were soon replaced by the well-known titles WordStar, a word processor, with MailMerge, originally a third-party accessory, for personalised mass mailings (form letters), the SuperCalc spreadsheet, two versions of the Microsoft BASIC interpreter, Kaypro's S-BASIC, a bytecode-compiled BASIC called C-Basic, and the DBASE relational database system.
Data could be moved between these programs relatively easily by using comma delimited format files (now more commonly known as CSV files), which enhanced the utility of the package. The manuals assumed no computer background, the programs were straightforward to use, and thus it was possible to find the CEO of a small company developing the applications needed in-house.
The Kaypro II and later models also came with some games, including versions of old character-based games such as Star Trek; a few were arcade games re-imagined in ASCII, including CatChum (a Pac-Man-like game), Aliens (a Space Invaders-like game) and Ladder (a Donkey Kong-like game).
If bought separately, this software would have cost more than the entire hardware and software package together. The Kaypro II was a very usable and (at the time) powerful computer for home or office, even though the painted metal case made it look more like a rugged laboratory instrument than an office machine. It enjoyed a reputation for durability.
Later Kaypro CP/M models came with even more software. In 1984, BYTE magazine observed "Kaypro apparently has tremendous buying and bargaining power," noting the Kaypro 10 came with both WordStar and Perfect Writer, plus "two spelling checkers, two spreadsheets, two communications programs and three versions of BASIC".
Later MS-DOS Kaypro computers offered a similar software bundle.
Jerry Pournelle wrote in BYTE in 1983 that he was able to use a Kaypro II without the documentation. Although he preferred the much more expensive Otrona, Pournelle called the Kaypro's hardware "impressive" and "rugged," approving of the keyboard layout and "certainly the largest screen you'll ever get in a portable machine." A later review by the magazine described the computer as "best value," citing the rugged hardware design, sharp display, keyboard, documentation, and the extensive bundled software. In 1984 Pournelle stated that "For those without much money, there's no real choice ... you need a Kaypro, which has become both the Volkswagen and Chevrolet of the micro industry".
BYTE stated in 1984 that while the Kaypro 10 was "not a technologically innovative machine ... the equipment and power delivered for the price are outstanding", noting that the $2,795 computer "costs less than many stand-alone hard-disk drives". It approved of the "beautiful" monitor as an improvement from the Kaypro II's, and the extensive menus for running software on the hard drive without using the command line. The magazine criticized the "unacceptable" user's guide, and predicted that the large software bundle would be "stupefying" to novice users, but concluded that the computer was an "exceptional value for the money. It should be considered by anyone interested in hard-disk capacity or performance at an excellent price".
All of the computers listed below are of the portable type unless otherwise noted.