ThinkPad. A quarter century is not a time limit

Published on October 05, 2017

ThinkPad. A quarter century is not a time limit

    In October 1992, the first ThinkPad notebook rolled off the assembly line. Twenty-five years later, the ThinkPad became one of the symbols of the IT industry. These devices helped researchers to reach the most remote corners of the planet and even conquer space, and many enterprises in various industries to achieve success.



    Early history of the line


    In May 1984, a professor at Harvard Business School, F. Warren McFarlan, wrote an article in the School Business Review newspaper entitled "Information technologies are changing the approach to competition." And he was absolutely right!

    In fact, it was Harvard Business School that contributed to the emergence of laptops. Thanks to one of their applications, the development of the first real IBM laptop, the L40SX model, which became the first major engineering project of Yamato Labs, began. This model was not particularly successful in commercial terms, but it proved that it is realistic to create a portable personal computer running from a battery.

    Yamato Labs immediately engaged in the project Project Nectarine, which will result in the ThinkPad 700C, the first IBM notebook from the ThinkPad line. The 700C was not the first laptop on the global market - Toshiba and Compaq had already begun manufacturing their devices by this point. But the design and technical excellence of this model gave impetus, due to which over time the ThinkPad has become one of the symbols of the IT industry.


    To develop the design of the device, the corporate industrial design team of IBM turned to a well-known specialist in this field, Richard Sapper, and Arimasa Naitoh led the Japanese team. One of the fun stories about creating a laptop design concerns the color of the TrackPoint joystick. The corporate identity department was quite happy with the overall black color scheme of the device, but they couldn’t agree with the bright red color of the TrackPoint. Sapper decided to leave the color red. To circumvent this limitation, he created the TrackPoint joystick in purple and assigned him a specific color code, which was quite convenient for the department representatives. But with each new version of TrackPoint, the joystick became more red. When Sapper was pointed to this fact, he objected that the official code did not change, so everything is in order.

    The ThinkPad 700C was introduced on October 5, 1992, at a press conference in Manhattan, New York. A month later, at COMDEX (now CES) in Las Vegas, the 700C was one of the main discoveries and the first ThinkPad device to receive awards.

    The demand for the ThinkPad 700C was so great that all stocks of laptops sold out almost instantly. A week before Christmas in 1992, the office of the President of IBM received a call from US President George W. Bush: “Hey, I read about your ThinkPad notebooks here and decided to donate one to Barbara (wife and first lady). It turns out that they are nowhere to be found. Can you get one specifically for me? ”

    Naturally, the ThinkPad 700C was delivered to the White House before Christmas, and a few days later IBM received a postcard with thanks from the president and a check in the name of the company.

    In just a few months, the ThinkPad 700C won more than three hundred awards and became a status symbol for presidents and corporate executives.

    Earth calls ThinkPad 750C


    On December 2, 1993, the space shuttle Endeavor delivered the first ThinkPad notebook to space. It was used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Especially for this mission, hundreds of color images of various parts of the telescope were downloaded to the laptop, making them easier to identify and repair.


    The long history of using the ThinkPad in space and the problems of computers in adverse conditions are well described in Aitomas Naito’s How ThinkPad Changed the World. In total, several hundred different models of ThinkPad notebooks visited the international space station and the Mir station on space flights . Perhaps, the ThinkPad 750C also holds the world record for time spent in space, since one of these laptops was left in an abandoned module of the Mir, Spectr station.


    More modern photo from ISS. How many ThinkPad do you count?



    Butterfly


    The ThinkPad 700C and its later versions, the 750C and 755C, were commercially successful, but for a growing mass market, their cost was simply inaccessible, and IBM did not plan to reduce the cost of these models. Therefore, an industrial engineer from IBM North America named Tim Cook (Tim Cook) put together a team that was supposed to create a less powerful but more affordable laptop for a wide range of consumers.

    As a result, they got a PS / Note laptop, which achieved some commercial success and inspired Cook with the team to create a more productive and expensive model. The main problem at that time was that the developers wanted to add a full-sized keyboard to the device, but no one produced LCD screens with a diagonal greater than 10.4 inches. Hence, a keyboard of this size turned out to be wider than the laptop itself. John Karidis, a brilliant mechanical engineer, managed to solve this problem with what is now known as the “butterfly keyboard”.


    So the ThinkPad 701C was born. but, due to the departure of a number of employees from the team, including Tim Cook himself, the 701C entered the market only in early 1995.

    The model turned out to be very popular and successful commercially, but by this time new laptops with a 12-inch screen began to appear on the market, so the 701C and the butterfly keyboard were at the height of fame for a short time.

    ThinkPad 701C was developed without the participation of Yamato Labs. What is funny, because due to unforeseen delays with its entry into the market, IBM management decided that in the future all of the ThinkPad models would be engaged exclusively in this division. To date, this task still lies with Yamato Labs.

    Fight for quality


    ThinkPad laptops are known worldwide for their quality, reliability and ability to withstand internal tests and military tests. But it was not always so.

    By the mid-90s, after several generations of the ThinkPad laptops of the 750th line, there were problems with the reliability of the design. Users worked with laptops much more than one would expect, and with it increased the load on some parts. For example, in earlier versions, the share of cover loops that broke due to constant load reached 19%.
    On this occasion, it was necessary to do something urgently.

    In 1996, Ken Yonemochi, head of the engineering design department, spent some time “in the field” with sales representatives of Coca-Cola. He noticed that the cover of the laptop in the process of work was opened much more often than it was supposed in the documents describing the technical parameters of the device.

    In those days, various system tests were conducted not by robots, but by living people. How can I check the hinges and opening mechanism of the laptop for strength? Only by opening and closing its lid manually. The young engineer Hiroyuki Noguchi was chosen as a “volunteer” to do it ten thousand times ... It was a very long night!

    Over time, the ThinkPad product line has expanded, and new customer segments have appeared on the market. Together with them, new requirements for product quality arose, so the ThinkPad testers' teams took on the job. In addition, it turned out that students are the worst with laptops. They sit on their backpacks, forgetting to pull out a laptop, spill drinks on the keyboard and drop food, and during lectures often take keys out of it, not knowing how to put them back in their place!

    It became clear that it was time to develop a completely new testing system. This is how “torture tests” appeared ...



    ThinkPad turned 25


    Thanks to the ThinkPad, we began to do many things completely differently. We can instantly get access to information about medicines, about the patients' history, about the results of their tests and diagnoses. Supply systems are now directly connected with the systems of warehouse accounting and processing of waybills. Education has completely changed thanks to digital learning materials, and thousands and thousands of enterprises have emerged and succeeded thanks to the mobile computing revolution that began in 1992.

    Let's return to our first paragraph. Professor F. Warren McFarlan wrote in his book that "information technology changes the approach to competition." But he hardly understood how much they would change our whole life!

    What is in store for the ThinkPad in the future? Peter Hortensius once said: “What they can do for sure is to help users deal with their problems.”

    So, as long as users have their own problems and tasks, there will be also ThinkPad notebooks that will help them!

    25 Think Facts


    1. Creating a design for the first ThinkPad model, Richard Sapper was inspired by the shape of the Japanese lunch boxes, bento.
    2. The name ThinkPad creators pushed pocket notebooks with the inscription Think (think) on the cover, which were distributed to all IBM employees.
    3. Officially, the red color of the Trackpoint joystick is called “purple” so that there is no conflict with IBM's security standards in case of an emergency power outage
    4. Every ThinkPad model has a code name for internal use. 700C was called Nectarine (nectarine), and 701C was called Butterfly (butterfly).
    5. The official name of the keyboard butterfly in the 701C model is TrackWrite.
    6. ThinkPad 701C can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art.
    7. In fact, the first in the lineup, the company has created a ThinkPad 700T tablet. This happened in April 1992, but it was introduced in October, along with the 700 and 700C models.
    8. A 25MHz processor was installed in the ThinkPad 700C laptop. In the models of the 2017 ThinkPad, the processor frequency is already 2.8 GHz. This is 112 times higher than in the first model, while the number of transistors in them increased 7000 times.
    9. In 1993, IBM released the ThinkPad 555BJ with a built-in Bubble Jet printer.
    10. In addition, IBM released the 755CDV model, in which it was possible to remove the back wall of the screen to use it with the overhead projector (if someone else remembers what it is all about!)
    11. For the caps on the original TrackPoint joysticks, tires of the same type and class were used as for the wheels in the roller coaster.
    12. Non-slip rubber pads on the bottom of the ThinkPad were invented thanks to the pads on the cat's paws.
    13. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon was not the first carbon fiber notebook. It has been used in the ThinkPad line since the distant 1992.
    14. In the late 90s, IBM released PowerPC running IBM AIX. This line was called the ThinkPad 800.
    15. Owl wing fans actually appeared in the course of research of Japanese fast trains and technologies to reduce their noise, but the shape of the blades of these fans is really inspired by feathers in owl wings.
    16. ThinkPad is not the oldest brand of notebooks. Back in 1989, Toshiba introduced Dynabook and this brand still exists in Japan. And in 1990, Texas Instruments introduced Travelmate. Now this brand is owned by Acer.
    17. In fact, the first laptop in space was the Grid Compass, but it was ThinkPad notebooks that allowed astronauts to completely change the approach to work in orbit.
    18. If you put in a chain all ThinkPads laptops in the world, it will go around the Earth and close in a circle.
    19. In 2017, Lenovo introduced a new low-temperature soldering process. Thanks to its use, annual carbon emissions in the production of ThinkPad notebooks should be reduced by 35%.
    20. The new ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 3.5 times thinner and 1.8 kg lighter than the classic 700C
    21. The ThinkPad logo is specifically asymmetrical. Full symmetry is boring!
    22. By 2014, 100 million ThinkPad notebooks were sold. The hundred million is called "Eve."
    23. Most ThinkPad notebook models pass the Mil-Spec military tests to ensure maximum reliability and long service life.
    24. Musician Atli Jarl Martin (Atli Jarl Martin) is such a hardcore ThinkPad fan that he has a tattoo with a ruler logo on his forearm.
    25. On Sunday, October 5, 2042, the ThinkPad will celebrate its 50th anniversary