Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tech History: The World's First Useful Handheld: Atari Portfolio

In this week's History of Technology, we are reaching out to one of my very favorite technology companies of all time: Atari.  Today, we think of our candy bar like cell phones as simply normal, but in the 80s no one was pioneering smaller technology like Atari.  And in 1989, they brought two fantastically powerful portable computing devices to market that could have -- with the proper push and marketing -- changed everything.  As it stands, they started the ball rolling and others picked it up and ran with it.

The one we are talking about today is the Atari Portfolio.  The Atari Portfolio was a palmtop computer that was originally developed by DIP Research Limited in Surrey, UK.  Atari got a hold of the design and licensed it from DIP, what came from that is what is pictured above: Portfolio.  This remarkably light, slightly smaller than a VHS cassette sized palmtop computer sported an Intel 80C88 processor smoking at 4.9152mhz (the 152 is very important) and ran DIP-DOS 2.11.  DIP-DOS was mostly compatible with MS-DOS 2.11.  It had no trouble transferring files back and forth from just about any PC including .BAT and .INI files.  So, anyone who knew a little bit about batch file programming could write a batch file that would make their Portfolio behave just like their PC at home.  The pint-sized powerhouse also sported 128k RAM with a 256K ROM that included pre-loaded utilities like a calendar, contact list, text-editor, spreadsheet and other useful utilities.  The screen was a monochrome LCD that sat at 240x64 which could display 40 characters across and 8 lines down.  And... what was really cool is that most MS-DOS text based applications would run on the Portfolio!  The compatibility was mind-blowing for 1989!

One of the best features of the Portfolio was its expandability.  You can see a slot on the side that allowed for adapter cards that did a lot things, including expanding storage.  And on the other side you could plug in adapters so you could use things like printers, modems and various other peripherals.

The Atari Portfolio made an appearance in Terminator 2: Judgment Day when John Connor was at the ATM.  He used a Portfolio to hack the password using an adapter that attached to an ATM card.  He also uses it to retrieve the keycode when at Cyberdyne systems later int he movie.  In the early 90's DIP was sold off and the resulting sale produced products like the HP Jornada and the mini Sony Vaio lines of handheld computers.

Bruce has worked in educational technology for over 18 years and has implemented several 1:1/BYOD programs.  He also has been a classroom teacher for various subjects.  Bruce is the author of five books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of ChristmasPhiladelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel and The Insider's Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

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