Monday, July 23, 2007

My museum of content related artefacts (9)

1994: Olivetti Quaderno V30

In 1994 I walked into a computer shop which had the Olivetti Quaderno (Schoolbook in Italian) on offer. It was packed in a small carrier box, ready to be taken along and I did. It was the smallest portable, which I had seen so far with dimensions of 20x13,5x2,5 cm, and the lightest one weighing just 1,5 kilo. It had everything on board and more, which made it an ideal sub notebook or better a palmtop for journalists. If you want to see the computer in more detail, go to the picture gallery of the site of Olivetti Quaderno Infoworld.

I enjoyed the machine intensely. I saw it as my digital personal assistant. Of course there were more bespoke PDAs like the Newton, Psion and Palm. But given its year of birth in 1992 the Olivetti Quaderno was a fully portable PC with all the DOS programs of that time. The machine had an Intel 8086 CPU. It had a hard disc of 20Mb and a slot for an expansion card. It was in fact a nice contemporary miniature computer.

But unique was the voice feature. The Quaderno could be used as a dictation machine with the display closed. It had Rec, play, stop, pause, FF and rew function buttons on back of display (see photograph). An integrated display shows time of day, recording counter and other status indicators. An integrated microphone and speaker allows voice annotation of documents (created by integrated software or by third party software such as WordPerfect 5.0).

The voice feature was great. When you went for an interview you could prepare your questions or attention points under WordPerfect 5.0 and switch on the recording machine as well. In fact, I had once an interview for a publication with someone. When the interview drew to a close, the guy started to spill beans he intended not to spill at all. It made a big scoop in the newsletter I was working for. And as usual, the quotes were wrong and taken out of context, the interviewee claimed. But when I played back the part of the interview on the phone, the interviewee shut up.

I have used the Quaderno for three years. It is still in a perfect state, sitting somewhere in the boxes for last year’s moving, which have not been unpacked yet. To me, the Quaderno was the bridge to the PDAs. Yet I have not seen the voice feature in any other sub notebook or PDA later.

The fact that the Quaderno was on sale in 1994, just two years after its launch, indicated that something was going wrong, either with the buying public or with Olivetti. I personally guess that Olivetti was already in big trouble. As an office machine manufacturer it had stepped into computers at a late stage and always had extraordinary machines. Before the Quaderno it launched a PC which looked like the omni machine, having incorporated a modem, a CD-ROM player, a CD-I player and some other features. This was rather uncommon at the beginning of consumer’s internet. Eventually Olivetti made a dash for a European internet service, but failed. Olivetti disappeared as a name from the PC front, but it died in beauty with the Quaderno.

Blog Posting Number: 821


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