Hans Polak and the Holborn computer


In 1981, UT alumnus Hans Polak (EL'79) developed the Holborn 9100, a computer with a design so groundbreaking and futuristic that it made the first Apple Macintosh, released in 1984, look pretty dull.

 At the age of 23, during his final internship at Holland Signaal (now Thales), Electrical Engineering student Hans Polak became fascinated with computers.  His internship supervisor Henny Bevers had extensive experience in computer architecture and was at the time specifically focused on Motorola microprocessor technology.  Polak learned a lot from him. After graduating, he decided to develop computers with his friend Dick Gerdzen. The then current IBM systems were extremely expensive and the friends saw a gap in the market for cheaper computers.  They founded Holborn Computers in September 1979. Gerdzen took care of the finances and Polak the technical aspects. They devised the name Holborn because the company was set up in Holten (Hol-born), but when they later moved to Enschede, it also stood for Holland-born.

 Holborn had to act quickly if it was to gain a share in the emerging market. Polak soon realised that developing a whole computer system would take too long, so he hired his former internship supervisor Henny Bevers.  He sketched out the first designs at home in the evenings.  In 1979, convinced that the Holborn should not only be a technical masterpiece, but also look good, Polak approached the energetic furniture maker and interior architect Henk Vos (1939-2020).

 Unhindered by any knowledge of computers, the man behind Studio Vos designed the housing for the Holborn 9100.  The result was amazing.  Architect and industrial designer Ricardo Bianchini, professor of Computer-Aided Design at the Technical University of Milan, described it in 2019 as follows:  'The design set the Holborn apart from the other computers of the time. It was a flowing, organic design, very different from the hard, angular shapes of the Commodore PET 2001, for example.  The Holborn's appearance may have been inspired by the classic-modern furniture of the 1950s and 1960s made of moulded polymers, such as Eero Saarinen's Tulip chair or the Panton chair.'

 The PC designed by Henk Vos was launched in 1981.  If you compare the Holborn with the first Apple Macintosh of 1984, Steve Jobs' creation looks prehistoric.  Jobs' keyboard is also very reminiscent of the separate keyboard of the Holborn 6500 of late 1982. The striking comma shape of Vos's separate keyboard can also be seen in Apple's first wireless keyboard, decades later.

 Holborn supplied custom-made computers and remained cheaper than the major suppliers.  However, the small company in Enschede was no match for IBM, which was storming the market.  Sales were disappointing and Holborn remained dependent on external financial resources and grants from the Overijssel development company OOM. Ultimately, no more than 200 of the Holborn 9100 and its successors were produced.  Holborn was declared bankrupt on 27 April 1983, but thanks to Studio Vos´ brilliant design, Hans Polak's computer has never been forgotten and continues to inspire designers.

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