The virtual offices of today and the physical offices of yesteryear have relatively little in common. This is due, for the most part, to the advent of laptop computers. Laptops have replaced the briefcase as the modern executives most necessary item. In today’s business environment nearly anything and everything that needs to get done can be done on a laptop. Physical and storage sizes are no longer issues as some laptops are nearly pocketsize and the amount of information that can be held is measured in three-figure gigabytes. Today, laptops make it possible for an office to be located anywhere in the world from the home to the rail to the airliner flying thousands of feet above the planet.
The desire to make technology smaller has always been the goal of those involved with computers and computer hardware. So it is not surprising that with the availability of home computer systems that the late 1970s saw the birth of the concept of laptops. Technology being what it was, though, these portable beasts were not the streamlined, book-like systems that are available today. Older laptops featured heavy CRT displays, circuit boards that actually contained capacitors and diodes rather than etched circuits and battery packs that were heavy enough to cause back problems.
Most experts in the history of computers give credit to William Moggridge as the designer of the first laptops. His company, Grid Systems, produced a portable computer for NASA to use with its fledgling space shuttle program called the Grid Compass. Compared to other computer models, the Grid Compass was light and featured 340K of bubble memory. This ancestor of modern laptops was put into production in 1979.
An argument for the first laptop could be made for the Gavilan portable computer. Laptops, of course, are built to fit on the lap of the person using it and the Manny Fernandez’s Gavilan computer did just that. This computer was specifically offered to executives in 1983 as an alternative to the bulkier, non-portable systems that most were using in their offices at that time.
In 1981, Adam Osborne founded his company, Osborne Computer and released the Osborne 1. This portable computer weighed in at 24 pounds and was built around a monochrome, 5-inch CRT screen. On either side of the screen rested two 5 1/4-inch floppy drives. The computer was also network enabled with its built-in modem port. Despite the fact that the Osborne 1 was the size of a small suitcase it defines itself among other laptops because of its portability and fold-up keyboard.
Most laptops today feature weights between three and ten pounds and have LCDs that produce millions of bright colors. Prices are incredibly low which makes them available to the masses and the built-in wireless capabilities of most make them Internet-ready. Speedy processors and large amounts of RAM make modern laptops even more powerful than desktops from three years ago.
Today’s laptops owe their heritage to those larger, heavier beasts that were available decades ago. Their beauty, size and power would be non-existent and we would still be sitting chained to our desktops. Without those first endeavors into the world of portability, today’s laptops would not exist.