GRiD Systems Corporation announced the first laptop computer (the “Compass Computer”) 25 years ago. We put the band back together on 15 March, if for only one night.

I joined GRiD Systems in February of 1981 as employee number 11, if memory serves. Over the next year, we put in 100 hour weeks to build the first laptop, constantly dealing with very difficult engineering problems. Would the power supply fit? Could we build an internal modem? Would it melt? What about all of those software applications? We wrote a complete applications suite in record time, and got the product to market for less than $6 million.

My job was Manager of the Network Products Group. We designed and built GRiD Central, a fault-tolerant file system on a phone line, and server and communications products. GRiD Central was important because the internal storage in the Compass was limited to 384KB of bubble memory. Keep in mind that we built the Compass before 3.5-inch floppy drives and certainly internal hard drives existed, and GRiD Central was used for file storage and application distribution. Everything was high-end for the times. The 320x240 monochrome electroluminescent flat-panel displays (another first for mobility) cost more than $850 each. Still, we sold a lot of machines, mostly to government and big corporate types, and paved the way to the most popular form factor of today – the notebook.

So, we held a reunion of sorts at the Computer History Museum, bringing the engineering management team back together to celebrate what I humbly think was a unique and seminal point in the history of computing. It was great to see so many of my friends again after almost a quarter of a century. Everyone was older, to be sure, but no one had really changed. I think we could do it again, but, of course, we won’t. Building the first laptop was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one that I will personally treasure forever.

They tell me photos and a video of the session will be posted to the above site shortly. Even if you’ve never heard of GRiD, I guarantee at least a few chuckles.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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