The Laptop Computer

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"Alan Kay has remarked that had Vannevar Bush enjoyed working in all-night coffee shops, he would have invented the portable computer." (Press, 1993, p.31)

The laptop computer has had a tremendous impact in the areas of business, education, government, and personal use. The emergence of portable computing and the laptop computer can be traced to the introduction of the personal computer itself. In 1975, the MITS Altair 8800 was introduced. The Altair is recognized as being the first commercially successful personal computer and the launching point for the personal computer revolution (Sysop, n.d.). Almost simultaneously, the idea of portability (in particular for the business-person) became a major focus in the industry.

This new desire for computing portability introduced a number of new challenges. Factors such as cost, weight, power source, screen & keyboard size, overall size, and included software presented great challenges to computer system designers. There is some debate regarding which machine holds claim to being the first portable computer, as portable was a relative term used quite liberally. The earliest portables, while heavy by today’s standards, shared the common characteristic of integrating a keyboard, memory, processor(s), display, and expandability potential into a single unit able to be transported.

In 1975, about one month after the Altair’s debut, IBM introduced the 5100 – dubbed the IBM Portable PC. There were few personal computers available around this time, making the powerful 5100 very attractive as a complete portable system (Sysop, n.d.). At almost 60 pounds and a cost of $9,000-$20,000 however, it was attractive to a small audience. It was designed specifically for professional and scientific problem-solvers. Several years later saw the introduction of what most historians refer to as the first truly portable computer, the Osborne 1 (Bellis, 2005). Released in 1981, the Osborne 1 weighed about 24 pounds and sold for $1795. While the unit itself was still rather bulky, it contained a fold-out keyboard, 5 inch monitor, and two floppy disk drives. Its biggest value however, was the $1500 worth of software that came with it. Unlike the IBM 5100, the Osborne 1 optionally ran on battery packs, enabling true portability. Advances in technology saw the decrease in size of portable computers, as well as an increase in computing power.
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