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Kaypro Corporation
Former type Corporation
Industry Computer hardware
Founded 1981
Defunct 2001
Headquarters San Diego, California
Key people Andrew Kay
Products Computers

Kaypro Corporation, commonly called Kaypro, 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, portable 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 and rechristened the computer with the same name.

Boy with Kaypro II, 1984.

The first product, the Kaypro II, carried the Roman-numeral designation because one of the most popular microcomputers at the time was the Apple II. The Kaypro II was designed to be portable like the Osborne. (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, it weighed 29 pounds (13 kilograms) 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 (equivalent to $4,400 in 2014).

By mid-1983, Kaypro had dropped the price to $1,595, and was selling more than 10,000 units a month—briefly making it the fifth-largest computer maker in the world. The Kaypro II's market success was due to a number of factors: it had a larger screen than the Osborne; it was a relatively inexpensive, simple to set up closed architecture system at a time when first-time computer buyers made up almost the entirety of the market; it came bundled with popular third-party application software (PerfectWriter and PerfectCalc, later to be replaced by MicroPro's WordStar and CalcStar); and it was supported by a network of trained dealers. 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. 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. It was widely used by service technicians for on-site equipment configuration, control and diagnostics.

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.[1][2][3] 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 80s. 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. It wasn't until 1985 that Kaypro began producing IBM compatible MS-DOS machines, the Kaypro 16 (transportable, same form factor as the Kaypro II), the Kaypro PC, Kaypro 286i (the first 286 IBM PC AT compatible),[4] 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.[5]

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 Computers Inc. because of sluggish sales.[6]

Kaypro founder Andy Kay re-emerged from the final failure of Kaypro with a second company, called Kay Computers, utilizing a similar sales strategy. Kay Computers is now apparently also defunct; its web site is parked and its location is occupied by a pet salon.[7]

Kaypro computers[edit]


Kaypro II

Kaypro's first computer, the Kaypro II, had a 2.5 MHz Zilog Z80 microprocessor; 64 Kb of RAM; dual, single-sided, 191 kB 5¼ inch floppy disk drives; and an 80-column, green monochrome, 9" CRT.

Early in the Kaypro’s life, there was a legal dispute with the owner of the Bigboard computer who charged that the Kaypro II main circuit board was an unlicensed copy or clone.

The outer case was constructed of painted aluminum. The computer featured a large detachable keyboard that covered the screen and disk drives when stowed. This and other Kaypro computers (except for the Kaypro 2000) ran off regular AC mains power and were not equipped with a battery.

The Kaypro IV and later the Kaypro 4 had two double-sided disks. The Kaypro 4 was released in 1984, 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 10 followed the Kaypro II, and featured a 10 megabyte hard drive and a single 5¼" floppy drive.

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 that it ran MS-DOS and was nearly 100% IBM-compatible. The 1985 introductions of the Kaypro 286i, the first IBM PC AT clone [1], and the Kaypro 2000 [2], one of the first battery-powered MS-DOS portables, 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.


CP/M was the standard operating system for the first generation of Kaypros. The first application software that came with the Kaypro II included a highly unpopular word processor called Select that was quickly dropped in favor of an office suite from Perfect Software which included PerfectWriter, PerfectCalc, PerfectFiler, and PerfectSpeller, as well as Kaypro's own compiled S-BASIC (which produced executable .com files). PerfectFiler featured non-relational, flat-file databases suitable for merging a contact list with form letters created in PerfectWriter. PerfectWriter itself was initially just a rebranded Mince and Scribble from Mark of the Unicorn, which was itself a CP/M implementation of the (then) mainframe Emacs and Scribe using BDS C. Later on MBasic (a variant of Microsoft Basic) and The Word Plus spellchecker were added to the model II suite of software. The Word Plus included a set of utilities that could help solve crossword puzzles or anagrams, 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, for personalised mass mailings), the SuperCalc spreadsheet, two versions of the Microsoft BASIC interpreter, Kaypro's S-BASIC, a bytecode-compiled BASIC called C-Basic, and the dBase II relational database system.

Using the comma-separated values (CSV) file format (better known at the time as CDF or comma delimited format or comma delimited file), data could be moved between these programs quite easily, 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 or somebody else developing the applications needed in-house.

The Kaypro II and later models also came with some games, including versions of old character-based games from earlier days (for example, Star Trek), and a few of which 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).

All this software if bought separately 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 MS-DOS Kaypro computers offered a similar software bundle.


InfoWorld described Kaypro II as "a rugged, functional and practical computer system marketed at a reasonable price." The reviewer called the hardware "first-rate," writing that he had used the computer indoors and outdoors in several countries without fault, and praising the keyboard and screen. Deficiencies included the heavy weight and mediocre documentation.[8]

Jerry Pournelle wrote in BYTE that he was able to use a Kaypro II without the documentation. Although he preferred the much more expensive Otrona Attaché, 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."[9] 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.[10]

Kaypro by model and year[edit]

Kaypro's nomenclature was odd, with the numerical designations for their machines having more to do with the capacity of the drives than the order they were produced. Kaypro also released several different models with the same names, perhaps hoping to capitalize on the name recognition of their older machines. As a result, identifying exactly which model a Kaypro is often requires an inspection of their hardware configuration.

All of the computers listed below are of the portable type unless otherwise noted.

  • 1982
    • Kaycomp I - The original Kaypro, was a demonstrator model shown mainly to prospective dealers. It had the same case as future models, but was painted green with two single sided floppy drives that were mounted vertically on opposite sides of the monitor like the Osborne I, its intended competition. A computer virtually identical to the later Kaypro II but labeled "Kaycomp" (not "Kaycomp I") on the side was sold to the public in limited numbers. This version had two vertically mounted drives on the right and a Keytronic keyboard with all-black keys rather than the blue numeric keypad.
    • Kaypro II - The first commercially released Kaypro, was an immediate success, dominating its competition, the Osborne I microcomputer. The Kaypro II had a 9 inch internal monitor instead of the Osborne's tiny 5 inch display, and single sided floppy drives. A redesigned version of the Kaypro II was released in 1984 that allowed block style graphics, and had half-height drives. This version of the Kaypro II had a version of Space Invaders along with the typical ASCII games.
Kaypro 10
  • 1983
    • Kaypro IV - An evolution of the Kaypro II, the Kaypro IV had two DS/DD drives (390 KB) and came with Wordstar in addition to the Perfect Suite of software.
    • Kaypro 10 - The Kaypro 10 was one of the earliest computers to come standard with a hard drive. It came with a 10 megabyte internal hard drive and a single DS/DD floppy drive.
  • 1984
    • Kaypro 4 - The Kaypro 4 was virtually identical to the IV, but featured half-height drives instead of full height drives, a 4 MHz clock speed and had basic graphics capabilities. It also had an internal 300-baud modem.
    • Kaypro 2X - The Kaypro 2X was similar to the Kaypro 4, but it lacked the built-in 300 baud modem that was available in the Kaypro 4. Kaypro 2X's were often sold in a bundle with the Wordstar word processing software suite, spreadsheet and database software. The impact printer that was also included in the bundle was labeled as the "Kaypro Printer," but was actually a re-branded Juki 6100 daisywheel printer.
    • Kaypro Robie - The Kaypro Robie was the only CP/M based Kaypro to be non-portable. Designed as a desktop computer, it had the same motherboard as the Kaypro 4. It was also equipped with two 2.6 MB high density floppy drives and a 300 Baud modem. The floppy drives were notorious for destroying disks as they literally scraped the media off of the disk substrate. The Robie was jet black, with the drives mounted above the screen, and the front panel angled upward. The Robie did not sell well, but it did make periodic cameo appearances on the ABC television series Moonlighting, as the desktop computer used by Bruce Willis' character David Addison. Due to its black color, the fact that it sat upright and looked like a helmet, and its handle mounted on the top, it was nicknamed "Darth Vader's lunchbox."[who?]
  • 1985
    • Kaypro "New" 2 - A scaled-down Kaypro 2X for the budget buyer, came with minimal software, and did not feature the internal modem.
    • Kaypro 4+88 - A dual system computer, the 4+88 was equipped with both an 8088 processor and a Z80, and was capable of running both the MS-DOS and CP/M operating systems. It came with 256 KB of RAM for the MS-DOS operating system that could double as a RAM disk for CP/M.
    • Kaypro 16 - Very similar in appearance to the Kaypro 10, the Kaypro's 16's main difference was that it had an 8088 processor and 256 KB of RAM and ran on the MS-DOS operating system instead of CP/M. The Kaypro 16/2e was a "Bundle" for a computer college. It came with Dos 3.3, 2 5.25" 360k Floppy Drives and 768K Ram and bundles software to complete the college course.
    • Kaypro 2000 - Kaypro's first and only laptop, it was an MS-DOS machine that ran on heavy lead-acid batteries. Similar in basic appearance to a modern laptop, it featured a detachable keyboard, rugged brushed aluminum casing and a pop-up 3.5 inch floppy drive. In what seems to have been a recurring comparison, it has been called "Darth Vader's laptop."
    • Kaypro PC - Late on the PC market, the Kaypro PC was intended as a competitor to the IBM PC-XT desktop machine. Running at a faster clock speed than IBM's machine, it was available with a larger hard drive than that offered by IBM and an extensive software package. It featured the motherboard on a bus card, which, like the Zenith Z-series machines, promised upgradability.
    • Kaypro 286i - A 6 MHz 286 desktop, it was the first IBM PC/AT compatible, with dual 1.2 MB floppy drives standard and an extensive software package but no MS-DOS 3.0, which had not yet been released, requiring the user to purchase PC DOS 3.0 from IBM.[11]
  • 1986
    • Kaypro 1 - The Kaypro 1 was the last CP/M model Kaypro introduced. In most ways, it was simply a Kaypro 2X with a smaller software package. It is distinctive from earlier Kaypro models because of its vertically oriented disk drives.
  • 1987
    • Kaypro 386 - A 20 MHz 386 desktop, with an extensive software package. It featured the motherboard on a bus card.


  1. ^ "Kaypro II computer". 
  2. ^ "Biography for Arthur C. Clarke". 
  3. ^ "About Sir Arthur". The Arthur C. Clarke Foundation. 
  4. ^ Kathy Chin (22 September 2011). "Kaypro introduces first of the PC AT clones". Info World. Tom Casalegno. 
  5. ^ * US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (2000).Arrow Electronics v. Justus 9955210. Retrieved April. 1, 2006.
  6. ^ PC World. (May 22, 2001) http://www.pcworld.com/article/id,50725-page,1/article.html - Accessed: March 15, 2007
  7. ^ Google Street View
  8. ^ Derfler, Frank J. (1982-10-18). "Kaypro II—a low-priced, 26-pound portable micro". InfoWorld. p. 59. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  9. ^ Pournelle, Jerry (January 1983). "Burnouts, Bargains, and Two Sleek Portables". BYTE. p. 426. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  10. ^ Fager, Roger; Bohr, John (September 1983). "The Kaypro II". BYTE. p. 212. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  11. ^ "Kaypro 286i; the first PC AT compatible" by Russ Lockwood, Creative Computing, vol. 11 no. 7, July 1985, p. 25, Retrieved Oct 7, 2009

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