How an idea becomes something quite different

How an idea becomes something quite different

A personal experience

The following is a story of how an idea initially failed, changed direction (PIVOT) and became an international success with a ground-breaking product.

In the late 1970’s Alex Paine was the International Development Manager for Dulmison Australia Pty Ltd. On a trip to Georgia USA to buy land and build a new factory (Dulmison Inc.) Alex was travelling in a car across Alabama with Dulmison Australia’s MD Clive Mackness and the newly appointed USA General Manager Colin Morriss. They were discussing how to store the data on the business cards that they had collected and decided it would be possible to produce business cards with a magnetic strip and wipe the card through a calculator similar to the scientific calculator produced at the time by Texas Instruments.

The idea of a storage calculator was explored, a business proposition formulated, and they were excited about taking this to the next stage. Expressions of interest were sought from Texas Instruments, and Hewlett Packard but to their disappointment there was no interest. A dead end had been reached and it seemed the potential venture had failed.

Dulmison Australia Pty Ltd was founded and owned by a brilliant engineer and entrepreneur, Philip Dulhunty, with whom they discussed the situation. Philip had designed and patented several inventions in the electrical engineering field and as Dulmison Australia Pty Ltd owned foundries, machine workshops and had significant expertise it was decided to produce the calculator storage device in-house.

As with most ideas one thing led to another and over the course of the following twelve months, specifications were modified, and the result was the Dulmont Magnum (Also known as ‘Kookaburra’) laptop computer.

The path to sales was not straightforward as, at that time, there were no commercial programs available to be used e.g. word processing, spreadsheets etc. It was expected by the manufacturers of desktops at that time that users would be able to write/code their own applications. Microsoft had a handful of employees and had DOS as their main program so Dulmison Australia Pty Ltd decided to write two programs in-house (MagiCalc and MagiWord), embed these in the hardware and sell each Dulmont Magnum equipped with its own user-friendly word processor and spreadsheet. The result was the first laptop was born. The design was unique, it was light, had a flip-top screen and embedded programs.

Packaging was produced and an external drive manufactured, the idea was conceived in 1979 and the first units were put on sale in 1983/4 following which $50 million of sales were recorded internationally in the next two years.

The first laptop in the world

Worlds first laptop



Dulmont Magnum
Also known as Kookaburra
Type Portable computer
Release date September 26, 1983(Australia)
1983 (International)
Operating system MS-DOS 2.11
CPU 8-MHz Intel 80186[7][8]
Memory 96KB-384KB RAM,
128KB-384KB ROM
Storage Optionally External Duel 5.25″ floppy disk drives, or an external 10 MB hard drive
Removable storage Dual 128K ROM cartridge slots
Display 8 lines, 80 characters LCD screen (1982–1983)
16 lines, 80 characters LCD screen (1984–1985 international release)
25 lines, 80 characters LCD screen (1985-6 final version)
Earlier versions were able to be upgraded to the larger displays.
Input 76-key Keyboard
Power Battery
External mains power
Dimensions 32 x 27.5 x 5.5cm
Mass 4.8kg
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