Making a Difference – Notebooks

The first portable PCs arrived in 1982, but the first notebook-sized machines took a year longer. Radio Shack and NEC almost simultaneously released systems (licensed from Kyocera) weighing under 4 lbs., with up to 32K RAM, a 40 character by 8-line monochrome LCD display and running at a blazing 2.4MHz. External storage was your household cassette tape recorder. They ran for days – sometimes even weeks, on the modem-less models – on four AA batteries. Cost: about US$800.

Ultralight laptops have come and gone since then, plagued by issues of battery life and components that didn’t quite scale down as designers had hoped. IBM’s Butterfly, for example, had an innovative expanding keyboard that allowed it to have a tiny footprint and still offer a more or less full-sized keyboard. Despite the firm’s best efforts, it faded into obscurity.

Toshiba’s VHS tape-sized Libretto surfaced in 1996, and disappeared in 1999. Ahead of its time, its tiny keyboard and 6.1 inch screen didn’t capture users’ fancy. In 2005, however, Toshiba resurrected the name for a line of laptops weighing under 1 kg. By comparison IBM’s 1986 PC Convertible laptop, weighed 12 lbs., had 256 K of RAM, two 3.5-inch 720K floppy drives, and cost US$2,000.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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