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The History of the Laptop Computer

Laptops, also known as notebooks, are computers that can be carried about easily. Unlike desktops, they can be placed on the lap without stress. However, the laptops available today were not like that when they were first invented. Through the years, efforts were made to make them more appealing. A proper understanding of what laptops looked like can be gotten by studying their history. When you read about the history of the laptop you will see portable computers mentioned quite often. A portable computer is different from a laptop in that it was portable but was too big to be set on the lap; therefore portable computers are slightly different than laptops.

The first laptop was known as the Dynabook. It was invented in 1968 by Alan Kay. It was also called a tablet PC or slate computer because of its very flat shape. It was invented particularly for children to gain access to digital media. However, as years went by, it also became useful for more tasks such as operations documentation for the military.

The first portable computer was invented in April 1976 by Xerox PARC Company. This one was called the Xerox Note Taker because it was designed to implement new technology and show what could be done. People that helped in the design were Adele Goldberg, Douglas Fairbairn and Larry Tesler. It had slow processing speeds, mouse, floppy disk drive and very high cost of production.


This invention was a good foundation for other computer corporations. In 1981, the Osborne Computer Corporation invented the first commercial portable computer. The name of this portable computer was Osborne 1. It was named after Adam Osborne, the designer of the product. The Osborne 1 was widely accepted as the first commercial portable computer because it weighed less than that of the Xerox Note Taker. Moreover, its foldable nature and lighter weight made it more appealing to several people who were ready to buy it. Software that came with Osborne 1 were CP/M utility, SuperCalc spreadsheet, WordStar word processing (combined with MailMerge) and digital research programming languages such as MBASIC and CBASIC. The costs of these programs were approximately $1,500 though the laptop was sold at about $1,795.

Many of the early laptops were based off of the first portable computers including the Xerox Note Taker and Osborne 1. Bondwell 2 was produced in 1985. It used CP/M as an operating system and a Z-80 CPU at four megahertz. It also had 64K RAM and 3.5 inches floppy disk drive. Bondwell 2 was one of the first laptops to have an LCD screen.

The Compaq portable was produced in 1983 by the Compaq Computer Corporation. It was the first portable computer produced by the company. Between 1981 and 1983, the Epson HX-20 became the most popular non clamshell laptop. EPSON HX-20 had 68 keys on the keyboard. Apart from electricity, it was also powered with nickel-cadmium batteries. Its RAM size was between 16KB and 32KB.

The Grid Compass was one of the most attractive laptops. In fact, a lot of people have the opinion that it was the first unique laptop. Bill Moggridge began its design in 1979 and finally released it in 1982. As a result of its high cost, many people were not able to afford it. Nevertheless, it was very important to the US military and NASA.

Another portable computer without a clamshell that was introduced in the 1980s was the TRS-80 model 100. It had a keyboard and LCD display, batteries as an alternative source of power and a very small size. It was first sold in Japan as Kyotronic 85 and some years later, Tandy Corporation took over the company to boost sales in the US, Canada and other countries worldwide.

Other noteworthy, early laptops were the Galivan SC and the Sharp PC-5000. These were both unveiled in 1983 but not sold until 1984. The Galivan model was the very first computer to actually be marketed as a laptop. These laptops were both IBM compatible but mainly ran on their own system software.

Today, laptops have become more useful than what they were known for in the past. This is because there have been many improvements over the years as technology has advanced. Operating systems have become much more advanced. Laptops have also gotten much smaller in size as technology has developed; they are much smaller and less weighty than their older counterparts. Laptops continue to improve as technology advances.

To learn more about the history of laptops, the following links will be helpful.

  • Osborne 1: The link contains the selling price, year of invention, the inventor and other important details about the Osborne 1.
  • Dynabook History: Some of the computers that were developed before the modern laptops include Dynabook, Osborne and slate computers.
  • The Dynabook: The idea for the Dynabook began as early as the 1960s. Its design looks very different from what is obtainable today in the computer production. 
  • The GRiD Compass: Pictures and features of the first non-clamshell laptops- the GRiD Compass are illustrated on this page. 
  • The World's First Laptop: Osborne 1 is being regarded as the first true portable laptop in the world. The cost and features are described on the page.
  • A Look at Laptop History: This PDF file contains information on how laptops developed between 1968 and 2010.
  • 1983 Compaq Portable: The page shows the steps that led to the production of the Compaq Portable.
  • Inventory of laptop screen types: Concise database of laptop models and the display types fitted to them.

See also Tablet screen history.