In 1972, Olivetti established in the U.S.A. (Cupertino), the Advanced Technology Centre (ATC), a research centre specialized in new technologies and office automation equipment design. During ten years the centre designed Olivetti typewriters, calculators, photocopiers, etc.... In 1980, the first Olivetti computer took form in Cupertino, and the M-20 computer was launched in March 1982. More than 50,000 units are estimated to have been shipped in the first year.
The M20 was one of the very rare computers based on the Zilog Z8000, a 16 bits microprocessor very close to its 8 bits big brother the Z80. Like most of the computers designed before the IBM PC era, the M20 offered technical choices which made it totally incompatible with the rest of the micro world.
The first proprietary M20 operating system, called PCOS (Professional Computer Operating System) was also very particular and didn't allowed files to be exchanged with other systems. Hopefully, MS-DOS V2.0, CP/M-86 and CP/M-80 would be later adapted to the specific M-20 hardware. Moreover, front of this compatibility problem, Olivetti developped a coprocessor board based on the 8086 chip, which offered M20 owners access to IBM PC software.
The M20 came with a 12'' monochrome or colour custom built monitor. The international version had a grey plastic case, the Italian version had a brown one.