Designing Interactions

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John Ellenby

John Ellenby is interviewed in Chapter 3 – From the Desk to the Palm. The author introduces the story of the development of the laptop in the Introduction. Jeff Hawkins describes the design of the first tablet while he was at GRiD, and Bert Keely tells us about recent tablet PCs.

While at Xerox PARC, John reengineered the Alto and developed Dover, the first preproduction version of a laser printer. In 1977 he was given responsibility for Futures Day, a demo to show off the achievements of the PARC researchers to the entire top management of Xerox. John teamed up with Tim Mott to make it spectacular. It was a huge success, but Xerox remained focused on the reproduction of documents, causing an exodus from PARC. It was then that John decided to found GRiD Computer Systems to create a new kind of computer, a fully functional personal computer that would fit in half a briefcase, later known as the laptop. Versions of the initial design stayed in production for over ten years.

John describes the seemingly insurmountable challenge posed by the size of half a briefcase, and talks about the many innovative elements of the design, including the magnesium enclosure, bubble memory, electroluminescent graphic display, modem and common code.

John holding the briefcase that determined the size of the first laptop.