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Bill Moggridge, GRiD Compass Designer, Dies

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the fare-thee-well dept.

Portables 29

judgecorp writes "Bill Moggridge, the British-born designer of the first laptop computer has died aged 69. The GRiD Compass was a computing landmark, designed to meet a US government request for a briefcase-sized computer, and first sold for $8000 in 1982. The GRiD compass was used widely, and taken into orbit on the Space Shuttle. It embodied industrial design principles and paved the way for subsequent laptops and devices. Moggridge's company ID Two, later IDEO, also designed the Palm V."

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29 comments

Aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41287505)

the GRiD Compass had a small cameo in the Film Aliens.

Re:Aliens (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41287531)

correction: it's not the Compass but a different model GRiD. my bad. http://www.therpf.com/f9/aliens-1986-prop-identification-30882/

holy bad marketing Bataman! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41288405)

who'd buy a portable computer named after Gay-related immune deficiency (AKA the "gay plague [wikipedia.org] ")!!!

A better era. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41287603)

Surprisingly, GRiD did not subsequently start suing every other portable computer manufacturer off the face of the planet in order to continue selling its extremely expensive portable computers unopposed.

Re:A better era. (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about a year and a half ago | (#41287737)

According to Wikipedia though they did earn some good money off their patents.

It's all degree. The later version of patents (not the early version that were granted by kings) were intended to get innovation into the public and in use. Like copyright (which was intended to encourage writers to work and not to sit back like J.D.Salinger and live off the profit of one book) the good reasoning behind having it has been morphed into a cash machine.

Historical footnotes (was Re:A better era.) (5, Interesting)

WillAdams (45638) | about a year and a half ago | (#41287759)

Because they were bought out by AST/Tandy (who wanted the government contracts, then didn't understand why they couldn't keep them when they didn't continue making computers to the same specifications).

I had one (paid an embarrasingly high price for it in my foolish youth --- should've invested the money instead) and it was definitely one of the nicest things I ever owned (echoing Penn Jillette's sentiments on this back when he used to write the back page editorial for _PC Computing_ magazine).

Nice touches:

  - Bubble memory for hard-drive like data storage in an era before portable hard drives
  - the battery was removable and the power supply was shaped exactly like the battery --- if one wished to use it on a desktop one could pull the battery, insert the power supply and have less clutter on one's desk
  - excellent keyboard
  - the GRiD OS and bundled / integrated apps were amazing for the time
  - accessories stacked up and plugged together very neatly making for a nice desktop dock-like experience

The company was also an early pen computing innovator.

Other cameos:

  - One flew in a Space Shuttle mission (first laptop in space)
  - The Richmond, VA phone book's cover one year was of a soldier during the Gulf War I believe sihouetted against the sun w/ a GRiD laptop balanced on one knee
  - one used to be in the ``football'' attache case which the President's nuclear weapon launch code system was kept in.

William

Looks like GRid was an Evil Patent Troll (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41287677)

Thank Assange (our newly elected Godhead for the Atheists on this site) that there were no patents back in the 1980's to completely stifle innovation!

Oh wait... From the Wikipedia article: "The Compass company subsequently earned significant returns on its patent rights as its innovations became commonplace."

This fact goes against the officially blessed prejudices of the masses on this website and is therefore RACIST!

Re:Looks like GRid was an Evil Patent Troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41287769)

attack of the 50 foot straw man.

our love is at an end...

Re:Looks like GRid was an Evil Patent Troll (1)

OldeTimeGeek (725417) | about a year and a half ago | (#41287847)

Nice. An obscure Tubes reference. Now I have "Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman" going through my head...

Truly sad day for design... (4, Interesting)

TWX (665546) | about a year and a half ago | (#41287735)

...as Mr. Moggridge understood both the value of good physical design and came to understand the value of good user interface design as well as the need for the product to work properly under the hood.

In a recent documentary he described how much time and effort went into the case form factor, the keyboard positioning, the screen, even a foreign object ejection system to kick pens and other devices out of the hinge if they fell in, and how once he finally got a finished product and started playing with it, how the software experience totally trumped the physical experience. Granted, had the physical experience been negative then it's probably safe to say that this would have been noticed, but it seems that in this case, the poor software interface negated most of what he achieved with the hardware.

My wife's laptop is a Lenovo Thinkpad X301, which for me is just about the pinnacle of laptop design. It has a good size screen, the keyboard feels right, it packs in an optical drive and connectors, and its battery doesn't protrude, but it only weighs 2.9lb. The case has that ruggedized feel that formerly-IBM Thinkpads had, and it's traveled overseas with us as a very welcome tool. She'll often take it instead of a work-issued Toshiba when she travels for work if she doesn't have to do anything sensitive it's that good.

It doesn't seem like companies want to give us that kind of product anymore. There is no true successor to the X301, and it feels like the last vestiges of IBM's design are essentially gone now.

Re:Truly sad day for design... (2)

rilister (316428) | about a year and a half ago | (#41289495)

You're right: the summary dramatically undersells what Bill Moggridge achieved: he was a passionate believer that the experience of a product was the true definition of success (not the look or even the functionality), and that only you could only design great products by deeply understanding your users. Essentially, he took design out of the hands of the 'high-priests' of taste and aesthetics, and put the power back in the hands of the users.

This drove him to co-found IDEO (full disclosure - I'm an ex-employee), which gave him the leverage take interaction design (a term he invented: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interaction_design#History [wikipedia.org] ) beyond GUI's to all products and services, and to define a lot of what matters most about design today.

Re:Truly sad day for design... (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | about a year and a half ago | (#41290341)

Essentially, he took design out of the hands of the 'high-priests' of taste and aesthetics, and put the power back in the hands of the users.

Fortunately, Steve Jobs soon put a stop to *that*.

Re:Truly sad day for design... (1)

rilister (316428) | about a year and a half ago | (#41290919)

;) +1 insightful!
Not entirely true, though: people like Karim Rashid and Philippe Starck are the real high-priests. SJ did believe that the user experience wins over everything else - it's just he also believed in polling a user-group of precisely 1 person.

Not to confuse with Bill Mockridge :) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41287789)

Which appears in the famous german TV weekly soap called "Lindenstraße"

SCNR

Have any AFRICANS designed any computers? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41287835)

Ever?

Rest in peace. (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about a year and a half ago | (#41288197)

Your clamshell design changed portable computing. I remember the days when the portable Osborne I and the Kaypro had their keyboards in the lid and were like carrying a sewing machine around the airport. Even my first non-CPM computer, the Compaq portable used the keyboard as a lid but thanks to the plasma screen it was more like carrying a heavy lunchbox.

When portables based on the Grid Compass design began to appear, I upgraded to a heavy ass MS-DOS portable with a bluish LCD (forgot the brand) and it looked almost like the grid except it was beige. That made carrying and boarding a plane with a portable computer much easier.

Fine Job. May you rest in peace.

My first professional experience... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41289197)

When I first got out of college I worked with a company putting the GRiD Compass into the hands of GIs of the 9th ID. I was seriously impressed with the form factor and the software. The forms and menus-based user interface was perfect for working with GIs. The OS was also light-years ahead of anything in the PC market: it included full multi-tasking.

Two things still stick in my mind almost 30 year later: "elbow-minus" (the CTRL-ATL-DEL equivalent on the compass) and the data structure underlying the forms and menus. We used to kid that it was made by a fresh graduate who had just learned Pascal and wanted to put every feature of the language into one data structure.

Good times and interesting programming environment. I still miss it

Re:My first professional experience... (1)

drakaan (688386) | about a year and a half ago | (#41290999)

I worked with them on the other side of the equation (a maintenance guy for certain systems, including a couple that used the GRiD). What I remember about them was primarily that the didn't break. Locked down on a tray in the back of a truck on a shelter with a few hundred other boxes of electronics that occasionally needed replacement...I don't think we ever replaced one of them. Aside from the Commodore SX-64 (I still want one of those, if anyone has one they need to get rid of), it was the first portable computer I can remember seeing.

The $40k laptops (2)

Snotnose (212196) | about a year and a half ago | (#41289999)

When these came out my company made avionics testers, the GRID was used to drive them. For about 6 months sales went gangbusters to the Navy and Air Force, then died down. A sales guy went to Edwards AFB to see why, and saw a bunch of our testers in a cabinet but no laptops.

Turned out the officers all wanted laptops, but they couldn't buy them. $40,000 avionics testers, on the other hand, .......

Dammit (1)

benbean (8595) | about a year and a half ago | (#41290197)

Jesus, a man who made a significant contribution to computing dies and it descends into a patent/Apple flame-fest.

I despair of Slashdot 2012.

Thank you to those of you making interesting and insightful comments, and thank you Bill.

Sad day indeed (1)

AaronW (33736) | about a year and a half ago | (#41291675)

I worked at GRiD in the early 1990s as an intern while in college. A short 3:35 documentary with Bill Moggridge can be found here [youtube.com] . Another good 90 minute documentary can also be found: Pioneering the Laptop - The GRiD Compass [youtube.com] . GRiD was a great place to work when I was there. At that time they were doing a lot of work on tablet computers and handwriting recognition.

Many of the people there came from Xerox PARC. The GRiD Compass software was well ahead of its time. It was a multi-tasking operating system with a GUI with network filesystem support. It even had a paid app store, decades before such a thing existed for mobile devices.

The GRiD Compass also incorporated an internal 1200 baud modem and supported a phone handset (with an address book application for dialing).

-Aaron

Re:Sad day indeed (1)

AaronW (33736) | about a year and a half ago | (#41291719)

Sorry to follow up to my own post, but a tribute to Bill Moggridge can be found here [youtube.com] .

The first computer I ever used (1)

JThaddeus (531998) | about a year and a half ago | (#41291707)

I fell into CS by accident. My first job out of the Army was to perform analysis and studies for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the Army Reserves misplaced my file and could not confirm my clearances. While I was being recleared, to keep me off overhead I was put on a project that was developing computer systems for tactical units. In November 1982 I was given one of the first GiRDs and told to "think of how you would use this if you were back in the infantry." Shortly after that I was learning SQL and Pascal. So long ago...

He didn't die... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#41304803)

... he laid down in a coffin, they closed the lid and he went into Hibernate Mode.

He'll be back after all this stupid tablet nonsense is finished.

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