So it’s certainly no shocker that rifling through a 25-year-old issue of PC Magazine provides dozens of pieces of evidence that the tastes of 1992 diverged wildly from those of 2017, in ways that go beyond the purely technological. The desktop and portable computers in its pages are beige and bulbous, bearing scant resemblance to their modern descendants.
But there is one exception in the magazine. It’s a striking black laptop called the IBM ThinkPad. More precisely, it’s the first ThinkPad laptop, the 700C, which was announced 25 years ago today, on October 5, 1992.
In 1992, critics and customers immediately identified the ThinkPad 700C as an important product. PC Magazine’s Matthew J. Ross called it “superb” as well as “bold and a great success” and concluded his review by proclaiming that “after years of designing undistinguished portables, IBM has finally gotten it right.” Magazines such as BusinessWeek and PC Computing gave the 700C awards; IBM claimed that the ThinkPad racked up more than 300 honors in its first few months. The company also issued a press release trumpeting 100,000 orders for ThinkPads (including the 700C and two lower-end models with monochrome screens) in eight weeks. “Before October, IBM was not a major player in mobile computing,” an IBM executive acknowledged in the release. “Now we are.”
What nobody knew at the time was that the ThinkPad name, design aesthetic, and emphasis on technological innovation in the service of reliable productivity would have such staying power. Any citizen of late 1992 who encountered a modern ThinkPad such as the X1 Carbon would likely be blown away by the machine’s thin-and-light form factor–less than a third the thickness and weight of the 700C–and high-resolution screen, and would certainly be confused by it carrying a Lenovo nameplate rather than that of IBM. (The Chinese manufacturer acquired IBM’s PC business in 2005.) But if that person was familiar with the ThinkPad 700C, identifying the X1 Carbon as a ThinkPad would be easy. You can’t say anything similar about a 1992 Apple PowerBook and a 2017 MacBook.