The Thorn EMI Liberator was a laptop word processor, produced in the United Kingdom by Thorn EMI Datatech, then in Feltham Middlesex, primarily intended for use by UK Government civil servants. Released in 1985, it is considered to be the first mass-produced British laptop. Thorn EMI Datatech simultaneously held the contracts for the repair of the Sinclair ZX80 and ZX81.
A laptop computer is a small, portable personal computer (PC) with a "clamshell" form factor, typically having a thin LCD or LED computer screen mounted on the inside of the upper lid of the clamshell and an alphanumeric keyboard on the inside of the lower lid. The clamshell is opened up to use the computer. Laptops are folded shut for transportation, and thus are suitable for mobile use. Its name comes from lap, as it was deemed to be placed on a person's lap when being used. Although originally there was a distinction between laptops and notebooks, as of 2014, there is often no longer any difference. Laptops are commonly used in a variety of settings, such as at work, in education, for playing games, Internet surfing, for personal multimedia, and general home computer use.
A word processor (WP) is a computer program or device that provides for input, editing, formatting and output of text, often plus other features.
The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state—the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.
The design of the Liberator was instigated in 1983 by the UK Government's Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA). It was envisaged as a portable device to allow civil servants to write and print their own reports, rather than using the services of typists. The CCTA initially contacted Dragon Data to develop the product, but the company went into administration shortly afterwards, and the engineering team were taken on by Thorn EMI to continue the project in 1984.
The Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency (CCTA) was a UK government agency providing computer and telecoms support to government departments.
A copy typist is someone who specialises in typing text from a source which they read.
Dragon Data was a Welsh producer of home computers during the early 1980s. These computers, the Dragon 32 and Dragon 64, strongly resembled the Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer ("CoCo")—both followed a standard Motorola datasheet configuration for the three key components. The machines came in both 32KB and (later) 64KB versions.
The Liberator entered limited production in early 1985 and was officially launched in September of that year, with PR from Aspect Public Relations. The journalist launch was the first promotional event held in the Cabinet War Rooms.
Despite plans for improved Liberator Mk1A and Mk2 variants, production of the Liberator ended in September 1986.
The Liberator was based on a Zilog Z80A microprocessor and a Gate array implementing the screen controller, keyboard interface and other I/O logic. The LCD display had a resolution of 480 x 128 pixels, or 80 columns by 16 lines of text. Interfaces comprised two S5/8 serial ports and two expansion buses, one specifically for extra RAM. Two battery packs were available, a NiCad rechargeable pack giving 12 hours operation, or one holding four AA cells giving 16 hours. The Liberator had 40 kB of internal RAM as standard, plus an optional 24 kB which could be write-protected by means of an external switch and had its own button cell battery to provide non-volatile storage. Another 24 kB of non-volatile RAM could be plugged into the external RAM expansion bus.
The Z80 CPU is an 8-bit based microprocessor. It was introduced by Zilog in 1976 as the startup company's first product. The Z80 was conceived by Federico Faggin in late 1974 and developed by him and his then-11 employees at Zilog from early 1975 until March 1976, when the first fully working samples were delivered. With the revenue from the Z80, the company built its own chip factories and grew to over a thousand employees over the following two years.
A microprocessor is a computer processor that incorporates the functions of a central processing unit on a single integrated circuit (IC), or at most a few integrated circuits. The microprocessor is a multipurpose, clock driven, register based, digital integrated circuit that accepts binary data as input, processes it according to instructions stored in its memory, and provides results as output. Microprocessors contain both combinational logic and sequential digital logic. Microprocessors operate on numbers and symbols represented in the binary number system.
A gate array is an approach to the design and manufacture of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) using a prefabricated chip with components that are later interconnected into logic devices according to a custom order by adding metal interconnect layers in the factory.
The Liberator's custom wordprocessing software ran under the CP/M operating system.
CP/M, originally standing for Control Program/Monitor and later Control Program for Microcomputers, is a mass-market operating system created in 1974 for Intel 8080/85-based microcomputers by Gary Kildall of Digital Research, Inc. Initially confined to single-tasking on 8-bit processors and no more than 64 kilobytes of memory, later versions of CP/M added multi-user variations and were migrated to 16-bit processors.
An operating system (OS) is system software that manages computer hardware and software resources and provides common services for computer programs.
The external dimensions of the Liberator were 295 x 252 x 35mm.
The Acorn Electron was a budget version of the BBC Micro educational/home computer made by Acorn Computers Ltd. It has 32 kilobytes of RAM, and its ROM includes BBC BASIC v2 along with its operating system.
The Dragon 32 and Dragon 64 are home computers that were built in the 1980s. The Dragons are very similar to the TRS-80 Color Computer, and were produced for the European market by Dragon Data, Ltd., in Port Talbot, Wales, and for the US market by Tano of New Orleans, Louisiana. The model numbers reflect the primary difference between the two machines, which have 32 and 64 kilobytes of RAM, respectively.
The Jupiter Ace by Jupiter Cantab was a British home computer of the early 1980s. The Ace differed from other microcomputers of the time in that it used Forth instead of the more popular BASIC.
The Sinclair QL, is a personal computer launched by Sinclair Research in 1984, as an upper-end counterpart to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. The QL was aimed at the serious home user and professional and executive users markets from small to large businesses and higher educational establishments, but failed to achieve commercial success.
The Sinclair ZX80 is a home computer launched on 29 January 1980 by Science of Cambridge Ltd.. It is notable for being the first computer available in the United Kingdom for less than a hundred pounds. It was available in kit form for £79.95, where purchasers had to assemble and solder it together, and as a ready-built version at £99.95. The ZX80 was very popular straight away, and for some time there was a waiting list of several months for either version of the machine.
The ZX Spectrum is an 8-bit personal home computer released in the United Kingdom in 1982 by Sinclair Research.
The ZX81 is a home computer that was produced by Sinclair Research and manufactured in Dundee, Scotland by Timex Corporation. It was launched in the United Kingdom in March 1981 as the successor to Sinclair's ZX80 and was designed to be a low-cost introduction to home computing for the general public. It was hugely successful, and more than 1.5 million units were sold before it was discontinued. The ZX81 found commercial success in many other countries, notably the United States where it was initially sold as the ZX-81. Timex manufactured and distributed it under licence and enjoyed a substantial but brief boom in sales. Timex later produced its own versions of the ZX81 for the US market: the Timex Sinclair 1000 and Timex Sinclair 1500. Unauthorized clones of the ZX81 were produced in several countries.
A RAM drive is a block of random-access memory that a computer's software is treating as if the memory were a disk drive. It is sometimes referred to as a virtual RAM drive or software RAM drive to distinguish it from a hardware RAM drive that uses separate hardware containing RAM, which is a type of battery-backed solid-state drive.
AVR is a family of microcontrollers developed since 1996 by Atmel, acquired by Microchip Technology in 2016. These are modified Harvard architecture 8-bit RISC single-chip microcontrollers. AVR was one of the first microcontroller families to use on-chip flash memory for program storage, as opposed to one-time programmable ROM, EPROM, or EEPROM used by other microcontrollers at the time.
The Timex Sinclair 1000 (TS1000) was the first computer produced by Timex Sinclair, a joint venture between Timex Corporation and Sinclair Research. It was launched in July 1982, with a US sales price of US$99.95, making it the cheapest home computer at the time; it was advertised as "the first computer under $100". The computer was aimed at regular home users. Unlike earlier computers aimed at home users, the TS1000 was not a kit which had to be soldered and assembled. As purchased, the TS1000 was fully assembled and ready to be plugged into the users' home TV. The TS1000 was a slightly-modified version of the Sinclair ZX81 with an NTSC RF modulator, designed for use with North American TVs, instead of the UK PAL RF modulator which was used for units sold in Portugal. The TS1000 doubled the onboard RAM from 1 KB to 2 KB. The TS1000's casing had slightly more internal shielding but remained the same as Sinclair's, including the membrane keyboard. It had black-and-white graphics and no sound. It was followed by an improved version, the Timex Sinclair 1500 which had substantially more RAM and a lower price (US$80). However, the TS1500 did not achieve market success, given that the marketplace was by this time dominated by Commodore, RadioShack, Atari and Apple.
Sinclair Research Ltd is a British consumer electronics company founded by Clive Sinclair in Cambridge. It was originally incorporated in 1973 as Westminster Mail Order Ltd, renamed Sinclair Instrument Ltd, then Science of Cambridge Ltd, then Sinclair Computers Ltd, and finally Sinclair Research Ltd. It remained dormant until 1976, when it was activated with the intention of continuing Sinclair's commercial work from his earlier company Sinclair Radionics, and adopted the name Sinclair Research in 1981.
The TRS-80 Model 100 is a portable computer introduced in 1983. It is one of the first notebook-style computers, featuring a keyboard and liquid crystal display, in a battery-powered package roughly the size and shape of a notepad or large book.
The TK90X was the first Brazilian ZX Spectrum clone made in 1985 by Microdigital Electrônica, a company located in São Paulo, Brazil, that had manufactured some ZX81 clones and ZX80 clones before.
Timex Sinclair was a joint venture between the British company Sinclair Research and Timex Corporation in an effort to gain an entry into the rapidly growing early-1980s home computer market in North America. The choice of partnership was natural, as Timex was already the main contractor for manufacture of Sinclair's ZX81 and ZX Spectrum computers at its Scottish plant in Dundee. It was Timex of Portugal, though, that took on the R&D and the local manufacturing of the models to be exported to the U.S. Although both Timex of Scotland and Timex of Portugal were full subsidiaries of Timex, internal rivalry, whether unintended or purported, meant there was little sharing between the two plants. Timex of Portugal also sold the Timex Sinclair models in Portugal and Poland under the Timex Computer brand.
The Epson PX-8 a.k.a. Geneva was a small laptop computer made by the Epson Corporation in the mid-1980s.
The Epson HX-20 was the first laptop computer. It was invented in July 1980 by Yukio Yokozawa, who worked for Suwa Seikosha, a branch of Japanese company Seiko, receiving a patent for the invention. It was announced in 1981 as the HC-20 in Japan, and was introduced by Epson in North America as the HX-20 in 1981, at the COMDEX computer show in Las Vegas, where it drew significant attention for its portability. It had a mass-market release in July 1982, as the HC-20 in Japan and as the Epson HX-20 in North America. The size of an A4 notebook and weighing 1.6 kg, it was both the first notebook and handheld computer, for which it was hailed by BusinessWeek magazine as the “fourth revolution in personal computing”.
The NEC UltraLite was an MS-DOS-based portable computer in a "notebook" size.
The Toshiba T1200 was a laptop manufactured by the Toshiba Corporation, first made in 1987. It was an upgraded version of the Toshiba T1100 Plus.
The Epson PX-4 is a portable CP/M based computer introduced in 1985. The screen was 40×8 characters physical, but 80×25 or 40×50 virtual, making it almost compatible with the Epson PX-8 Geneva. It was operated from a NiCD battery pack or four penlight batteries.
S5/8 was a serial communications standard devised in the United Kingdom in the 1980s as a simplified subset of RS-232 intended to make interoperability easier. Although published by the British Standards Institution as standard DD 153:1990, it was not widely adopted, and the BSI standard was later withdrawn.
The Register is a British technology news and opinion website co-founded in 1994 by Mike Magee, John Lettice and Ross Alderson. Situation Publishing Ltd is listed as the site's publisher. Drew Cullen is an owner, Linus Birtles the managing director and Andrew Orlowski is the Executive Editor.
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