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R.I.P. Andrew Kay

Kaypro II was once the fifth-best-selling personal computer.

Andrew Kay died August 28 at age 95. Kay, who was born Andrew Kopischiansky, played a key role in San Diego's up/down business history.

His company, Non-Linear Systems, came out with one of the early personal computers. In 1983, the company's name was changed to Kaypro. It sold the Kaypro II computer, which got rave reviews from computer experts. In 1983, the company went public and, as I recall, Andrew Kay for a brief while was a billionaire on paper.

However, the company didn't spend on research and development, and the Kaypro II was quickly surpassed by other personal-computer makers.

I recall going to company headquarters and being stunned to find the computers were stored outside under a tent. The company was known for mismanagement. The saying became, "Too many Kays and not enough pros."

The company once had the fifth best-selling personal computer. But the company couldn't keep up with the ever-changing technology. Kay, however, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had some excellent achievements in his life, including his invention of the digital volt meter.

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Andrew Kay died August 28 at age 95. Kay, who was born Andrew Kopischiansky, played a key role in San Diego's up/down business history.

His company, Non-Linear Systems, came out with one of the early personal computers. In 1983, the company's name was changed to Kaypro. It sold the Kaypro II computer, which got rave reviews from computer experts. In 1983, the company went public and, as I recall, Andrew Kay for a brief while was a billionaire on paper.

However, the company didn't spend on research and development, and the Kaypro II was quickly surpassed by other personal-computer makers.

I recall going to company headquarters and being stunned to find the computers were stored outside under a tent. The company was known for mismanagement. The saying became, "Too many Kays and not enough pros."

The company once had the fifth best-selling personal computer. But the company couldn't keep up with the ever-changing technology. Kay, however, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had some excellent achievements in his life, including his invention of the digital volt meter.

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Comments
20

Boy, I hadn't thought about Kaypro in many years. It was one of those local San Diego success stories that flamed out too soon. The tent to which you refer was in Solana Beach, just up the road from the Del Mar racetrack as I recall. The technology of the personal computer was moving very quickly then, and its direction was never clear. In the Kaypro era, all of them were distinctly different, and too many--even an Apple product or two--didn't make the grade.

If he was 95 at the time of his death, Kay was in his mid-60's when the Kaypro personal computer had its heyday. Great story.

Sept. 4, 2014

Visduh; Kaypro wasn't spending on research & development. Competitors were. Pretty soon the Kaypro II was obsolete. Yes, the company was poorly managed, but Andy Kay left his mark on the world. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 4, 2014

Andy Kay was a great thinker and brilliant innovator. He was always sharply dressed with crisp monogrammed shirts and a big smile. The company was a pioneer in “bundled software” and offered a computer and office package that had a very attractive price-point. It grew so fast that it was hard for them to keep up with the orders. The big-top tent was put up to house the massive inventory of parts to build the computers while a new building was being constructed on the campus.

The factors that doomed KayPro were not adapting to the demand for IBM clones as Compaq had done. KayPro’s continued to use CP/M operating system while the demand was shifting to IBM PC compatible system such as Compaq, which employed the Microsoft MS-DOS based software. The popularity of the IBM clones led to an immediate and permanent plunge in demand for CP/M systems, such as KayPro and Osborne. Nonetheless, Andy Kay did grow the company to one of the biggest players in the early PC industry. Dozens of similar companies, many with established names like Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), Xerox, and Texas Instruments, to name a few, also failed in the PC gold rush.

Sept. 4, 2014

Ponzi: You are right. Digital Equipment went down, as did the mini-computer. We had both an Osborne (not for long) and a TI computer in the early days. (That was before our oldest son went to work for Apple. We have had only Apple ever since.) Your point that the PC dragged some big, well-managed companies down with it is well taken. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 4, 2014

This is turning into a nostalgia fest of failed concepts. I hadn't thought much about CP/M for years either. In 1983 as I was getting my first computer, an IBM PC, I knew a couple guys who bought new ones that ran CP/M. They did so because the salesmen said that CP/M was "better." I never knew why they believed it was better, but that was irrelevant. In fact, buying a CP/M based system then was like riding out to catch up with General Custer in 1876. Nothing good came of it.

Sept. 5, 2014

CP/M was created by Digital Research Corp. But the company did not agree to make an operating system for the IBM PC. IBM turned to Microsoft. The rest is history. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 5, 2014

And Bill Gates agreed to furnish IBM with an operating system, even though he did not have one to sell. He went out and bought QDOS (Quick&Dirty OS) and then resold it to IBM. Since Bill Gates was already a silver spooned kid from a lawyer and socialite family, his deception was digested by a division of IBM (the Boca Raton project) that did not have faith in the emerging PC market and considered it a hobbyist fad. But software like Lotus 1-2-3 made the sales of IBM and it's hundreds of clones skyrocket. Throw in some mischievous coding by Microsoft to make competitors products slower and bug prone (on their OS) and Microsoft became the leading company furnishing software. Bill Gates kinda threw IBM under the bus by licensing the MS-DOS to everyone else. The people at IBM did not anticipate this result. As I have always said, there is a crime behind every fortune.

In contrast, Steve Jobs was a bright marketer and pushed the innovation of Steve Wozniak getting investors like Mark Markula (from Intel, no less to see a Motorola 6502 chip used in Apple II's). Steve pushed from a marketing and distribution (Apple Seed, was an early give-away program to schools to get school teachers hooked on Apple.. why Apple's rule in the education market... Steve Job's early vision for the future). Bill Gates used brute force "I buy it or I steal it" when is came to advancing his companies technology. I was an Apple Computer dealer at age 22, opening several computer stores in San Diego. One company, NLS bought some equipment from me and then was 90 days late on the bill. One day a salesman walked in and tried to sign me up as a dealer for the KayComp II from NLS. I said, hey! NLS owes me about $5,000.... years later I was working for Andrew Kay at KayPro.

Sept. 5, 2014

Ponzi: A good history lesson. One of the great French writers said that there is a crime behind every successful enterprise. I don't remember who it was. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 6, 2014

Pat Flannery: RIP, Mr. Kay -- indeed. Kaypro the company failed, and Andy Kay should have hired more good managers instead of keeping everything in the family, but the man was a genius. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 4, 2014

My introduction to computers was on a Kaypro in the very early 80s - no graphical interface (took almost another decade). Thanks to a friend, David Goldberg, I was able to use the various programs: PerfectWriter, PerfectFiler, etc. I still have the step by step notes David gave me over the phone to create record files and then print out selected reports from PerfectFiler. Transition to a PC (still before Mosaic & Netscape) was made a lot easier because of that experience (even though it was still a blank screen with flashing cursor awaiting a command). So many of the keyboard commands I learned with the KayPro version of Wordperfect were and remain identical across many PC-based programs today. Oh, and it was "portable" (but weighed a LOT so I had a difficult time lugging it around on the few occasions I had the need to).

Sept. 5, 2014

jelula: Yes, the Kaypro was made of metal -- hence rugged, but also heavy. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 5, 2014

MORE ON THE UNFORGETTABLE ANDY KAY AND HIS FAMILY. A source of mine who once worked at Kaypro has fed more information about Andy and his family. Andy was extremely well-dressed. The family was in love with the color white. They had white homes and drove a white Mercedes-Benz.

Andy Kay had a splendid vocabulary. He would drop words (not necessarily technical ones) that sent people running to the dictionary. Son David resigned from Kaypro when it was headed for bankruptcy and ultimately founded WordSmart, which produced vocabulary packages aimed at young people and teens. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 5, 2014

Bruce Gibney: Several people say that they got a lot of mileage out of their Kaypro computers. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 5, 2014

Stephen Carnam: Oh yes, there is a big market for the old computers now. People display them as they display antiques. Our oldest son, who has been with Apple for 20 years, taught himself programming on a Sinclair. Remember that one? We had an Osborne for a brief while and a TI. Should have saved them all and sold them to collectors. I wrote a book on a TI. Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 6, 2014

Ponzi; Would you identify that computer? Best, Don Bauder

Sept. 6, 2014

Kaypro also could be considered to have the first lap top. The Kaypro I & II were metal boxed and portable, with a plastic suit case-styled handle. Unsnap the cover and there was your keyboard.

If my memory is correct, NLS - Non-Linear Systems started in the abandon airfield buildings at the old Del Mar airport, just east of the fairgrounds. I believe they started shortly after WWII, designing and building oscilloscopes. They also later occupied the unique building on Cedros Ave. at the corner of Rosa St. in Sol. Beach (now design firms and art galleries.) As the Kaypro company grew, the corp. headquarters were built off of Stevens overlooking Earl Warren Middle School.

Sept. 6, 2014

Ken, that photo you attached and your description of unsnapping the cover, which was the keyboard, was the first Compaq. It had the tiny monitor alongside the dual floppy drives, and the keyboard was connected by a short cord. (Otherwise it was an IBM PC clone of the era.) If you put the keyboard in its perch on the front, the box was all closed up, and the whole thing was "portable." Yeah, right. In 1983, one of the two audit firms I encountered had one of those and toted it along to the client location. That was quite a step forward. All seems quaint now, doesn't it? BTW, in those days, that school was Earl Warren Junior High. Quaint too.

Sept. 6, 2014

96.76% of the time Visduh, I bow to your correctness of local history. But this time - sorry my friend. A close look at the image one can see the Kaypro logo on the side, in its aqua blue, slanted, what was then a high tech font. And every time I call Oak Crest or Earl Warren "Jr. High" my former and current middle-schoolers scold me, so its now engrained in me as middle school, but you are correct for the school's name in that time period. Brings up a good question for our editors. Should one reference a place or building as to what it is named today or what it was known in its time period? Or just use phrases like "the former" and "the old" ?

None

Sept. 7, 2014

96.76% of the time? Such precision! The Compaq to which I refer looks uncannily like that one you attached.

As to the name of that school, the San Dieguito district was one of the last ones to ditch the venerable designation of Junior High in favor of middle school. They didn't make the change until this century, and it had only semantic purposes. The concept of middle school in California had to do with putting sixth grade in with 7th and 8th grades. For a time, unless a school had 6th grade, it was usually called a Jr. High. But that old name developed some unpleasant connotations. Of course, the district in question here cannot have 6th grade in its middle schools because its mission is 7 through 12, and it is fed, generally, by K-6 districts. So, the name has changed, but the reality is the same.

Sept. 7, 2014

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