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A Brief History of Portable Computers

 Portable computers like laptops and tablets are a regular

part of the modern lifestyle now, but it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t too long ago where computing of any kind was just a pipe dream, let alone the portable devices that are popular today. It seems as though you could miss ‘the latest thing’ if you were distracted long enough. And the compact size of today’s portable computers make that even more likely.  Way back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the idea of the

laptop computer was taking shape.

In the Beginning  In the 1970s, researchers at Xerox were working on a

machine that resembled a portable computer, called the Dynabook. Laptop technology wouldn’t be available until the 1980s, but the Dynabook was intended to be a form of tablet computer with a screen that remained in an upright position.  The desire was there but the supporting technology

wasn’t, and the Dynabook idea never really blossomed into an operational unit.

The Next Chapter  The first commercial portable computers became

available in 1981. The first one was called the Osborne 1 and it was roughly the size of a portable sewing machine. The monitor was quite small and it wouldn’t run on battery power, but it was a revolutionary force in the business world.  For the first time, business people were able to carry

their computer data along with them. The fact that it couldn’t run on a battery and its size likely held it back in the commercial market, and sales never really took off.

The First ‘Real’ Laptop  The first modern-style laptop computer that featured

a flat display screen that folded down onto the keyboard came out around 1982. It was called the GRID Compass and it had the same clamshell style design that’s still used for most of today’s laptops. It did have battery-power capabilities, but it still floundered in the commercial market due to a high price tag and incompatibility with IBM products. In the end, the primary users of the GRID Compass were NASA and the US Military.

Commercial Success ď‚— In 1983, a couple of portable computers were introduced that would see a little

more commercial success. One was the Epson HX-20 and the other was The Compaq Portable. The Compaq computer still needed AC power to work, but it was the first portable computer that was compatible with IBM software and the MS-DOS operating system. ď‚— The Epson HX-20 computer was quite simple when it came to programming, but

it could also be run on rechargeable batteries, making it truly portable. By the end of 1983, a small laptop called the Kyocera Kyotronic 85 had made its way to North America from Japan. This computer had an internal modem and ran several programs that were designed by Microsoft. It was small and relatively inexpensive, making it a favorite among journalists.

IBM Compatible Computers ď‚— Since IBM was the primary operating platform for the

majority of desktop computers, it was important that laptop computers also be IBM compatible. This way, users could transfer data from one computer to the other without incident. And since none of the earlier portable computers could fulfill this need effectively, IBM and Toshiba each produced laptops in 1986 and 87 that were IBM compatible. ď‚— These computers were world beaters as far as operation was

concerned, but they did run on batteries, were light enough to carry around in a backpack and each had a pause feature that enabled users to continue on with their work from a previous session without restarting.

Apple Enters  Even though Apple had a hand in the home computer

market all through the 80s, it wasn’t until 1989 that the first portable Apple computer was released. The Macintosh Portable was the first effort, and even though it was too bulky to really compete with other portable computers, Apple was in the market.  In 1991, Apple came out with its PowerBook series,

which included some of the standard features of modern laptops, like built-in network adapters, touchpad mouse and the keyboard placement.

Windows 95 ď‚— In 1995, Microsoft introduced the Windows 95

operating system, which completely served to stabilize and standardize the laptop industry. Other new features that came out in 1995 included floppy disk drives, CD-ROM drives and Intel Pentium processors. All of the major laptop makers quickly came out with machines that showcased all of the new features.

1995 and Beyond ď‚— Since 1995, portable computers have continued to evolve in

terms of portability, battery life, network connectivity and graphics. The popular tablet computers like Apple’s iPad are even further evidence of the progression of portable computing. Tablets are new, but the concept and idea is anything but new. The first patent for an electronic tablet that was to be used for handwriting analysis was granted way back in 1888. Since then, several attempts have been made to introduce a tablet device into the marketplace, with varying degrees of success. In all likelihood, the market for portable computers and related devices is just getting warmed up.

A brief history of portable computers