GRiD Compass 1101 was the world’s first clamshell laptop, and also one of the most durable models at the time of its invention.
What is the GRiD Compass 1101?
Labeled “the grandaddy of laptop computers”, the idea for the GRiD (Graphical Retrieval Information Display) Compass 1101 was initially conceived back in 1979. The inventor behind it was Bill Moggridge, who was a British industrial designer.
The company behind the computer, the GRiD Systems Corporation, was the brainchild of John Ellenby, Glenn Edens, and David Paulsen. Together, they set up the company in Silicon Valley in 1979 and worked out of a garage — just like most other tech startups.
Like most tech inventions, the GRiD Compass 1101 started as a more humble idea. Ellenby wanted a way to send off emails on the go, whereas Glen wanted a fully-fledged portable computer. Once Moggridge joined them, things started taking off.
Features and Benefits of the GRiD Compass 1101
No one had previously thought about folding the computer screen over the keyboard, and the GRiD company managed to secure the patent for that invention. This innovative feature would eventually go on to become the industry standard for almost all laptop computers in the world.
Not only was the design very practical, but the GRiD Compass 1101 was also extremely durable. The shell of the computer was made from die-cast magnesium, which made it resistant to impacts that would easily damage more fragile computers.
Because of this unique durability, the GRiD Compass 1101 wasn’t only an attractive option for business professionals. The US military, NASA, and other public institutions were also very interested. The laptop was not only used on Air Force 1 but was also used by astronauts on their 1980s shuttle missions.
NASA did make some modifications, however, to make it possible for the GRiD Compass 1101 to communicate with the rest of the onboard equipment. But it wasn’t only used for real space adventures. The GRiD Compass 1101 was also featured in the classic movie Aliens as a gun control terminal.
No other computer on the market packed as much punch as the GRiD Compass 1101. The closest competitor was the Osborne. There was a massive price difference between the two, however. The Osborne was priced at $1,795, whereas the GRiD Compass 1101 set back consumers no less than $8,100. That made it the most expensive personal computer money could buy.
In terms of features, the GRiD Compass 1101 featured a very clear ELD (electroluminescent display) on the monitor. Although 80×24 rows of text isn’t a lot by today’s standards, it was the largest personal computer screen available at the time.
As for the software, only IBM computers used MS-DOS back in the 1980s. The GRiD 1101, on the other hand, ran its own GRiD-OS operating system. That was because IBM didn’t even exist at the time of its invention. The operating system was eventually changed to MS-DOS in order to cater to more consumers.
GRiD-OS wasn’t an inferior software, however. The suite featured a text editor, communication functions, electronic worksheets, databases, programming languages, and could convert data to graphs. Files could even be password protected.
The Legacy of the GRiD Compass 1101
Without this amazing machine, it’s not certain that modern laptops would be where they are today.
Image courtesy of oldcomputers.net.