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Remembering Bill Moggridge, Designer Of The Modern Laptop: 25 June 1943 – 8 September 2012

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This morning it was announced that Bill Moggridge, a British designer responsible for the design of the modern laptop computer, passed away this weekend on September 8th after a battle with cancer.

Bill Moggridge

Bill Moggridge, Director, Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Image Copyright: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Released in April 1982, the GRiD Compass 1100 laptop computer was designed by Mr Moggridge and the team at GRiD Defense Systems in Middlesex, to be a portable and robust machine that could be used anywhere.

With a case created from magnesium alloy, a whopping 340 kb of processing memory and an internal dial-up modem, the GRiD Compass cost a pricely £5000 and was popular with the US Military and NASA.

The powerful and lightweight 5 kg laptop was used by US paratroopers during combat and journeyed into outer space in 1985 aboard the Discovery Space Shuttle.

GRiD Compass computer

Compass computer for GRiD Systems. Designed by Bill Moggridge. Palo Alto, CA, 1982. Photo: Don Fogg
Image Copyright: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

The flip-open ‘clamshell’ design of the GRiD Compass was a step forward in design and still influences the look and feel of laptop computers being produced today.

Before Moggridge’s design, portable computers were more akin to small suitcases such as the Osborne 1 that weighed in at a wrist-straining 10.7kg, or machines such as the Epson HX-20 that featured a tiny screen combined with a full keyboard.

Osborne 1 portable computer

Osborne 1 portable computer, 1981.
Image from the National Media Museum Collection

Epson HX-20 portable computer

Epson HX-20 portable computer, 1982
Image from the National Media Museum Collection

In 2010, Bill Moggridge was appointed as Director of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York where he worked to establish the importance of design in everyday life.

If you’re interested to find out more about the history of computer design but can’t afford the flight to New York, then we have a cracking timeline of computers and gadgets in our Life Online gallery.

Amstrad Notepad

Amstrad Notepad NC100 portable computer.
Image from the National Media Museum Collection

I never used a GRiD Compass, an Osborne 1 or an Epson HX-20 but I do remember tapping away on an Amstrad Notepad in the early 90s. I remember being frustrated at the small amount of text you could see on the screen at any one time but the big colourful buttons were a definite plus. What was the first portable computer or laptop you ever used?

Written by Tom Woolley

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  1. David Sligar

    I still have my Radio Shack TRS-80 color computer, serial number 2892. it is like a laptop without a screen, with a long wire to a TV. (In many ways it was better than the Apple 2.) It had 16 K Ram, but could be modified with piggybacked RAM chips to get 32 K. Dialup modem plugged into game port. Good for programming animation in color graphics. Cassette tape program storage. Dual joysticks. Added mouse. It never got the respect it deserved because the keyboard had flat keys like today’s laptops. People wanted cupped keys back then. Tandy stock went way up after this computer came out. The Rainbow magazine was dedicated to the color computer. I had a color animation program published in the January, 1984 issue. The Rainbow had 321 pages that month.

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