John Ellenby

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John Ellenby
Born(1941-01-09)9 January 1941
Died17 August 2016(2016-08-17) (aged 75)
San Francisco, United States
Known forGrid Compass computers

John Ellenby (9 January 1941 – 17 August 2016) was a British businessman. He was the founder of Grid Systems Corporation, maker of the Grid Compass, one of the first commercially successful laptop computers. He also co-founded GeoVector, an early augmented reality company.


Ellenby was born in Corbridge, in Northumberland, England. His father Conrad Ellenby was a nematologist.[1] He studied geography and economics at University College London, and first encountered mainframe computers for the first time in the early 1960s, when he spent a year at the London School of Economics.[2] He worked for the British firm Ferranti, where he worked on minicomputers.[3] Ellenby moved to California in the 1970s, where he worked for Xerox, and became involved in the management of the development of the Alto and Alto II desktop computers.[4][5] In 1978, Ellenby and Tim Mott proposed an idea to commercialise the Alto computer,[6] but this idea was later abandoned due to financial constraints. Ellenby said that they "had to sandbag the Alto because with it we couldn't make their numbers and therefore wouldn't get any bonuses".[7]

In 1979, he cofounded Grid Systems Corporation with colleagues from Xerox PARC;[5][2][4] the business started with $13 million of funding from Wall Street venture capitalists.[8] In 1982, Grid built the Grid Compass, which was one of the first laptop computers to feature the now-popular clamshell design,[9] and was used on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986.[2][4][1] In 1988, Grid was sold to the Tandy Corporation.[2][5] The design for The Compass computer was allegedly based on the shape of Ellenby's briefcase.[10] In 1987, Ellenby founded Agilis Corporation; he acted as the President of the company until 1990, and in 1989 the company produced hand-held computers with built-in Ethernet ports.[11][12] Ellenby also founded Geovector, a company based on applications of augmented reality.[2] Ellenby died on 17 August 2016 in San Francisco.[2]


  1. ^ a b "Obituary: John Ellenby". The Times. 1 September 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "John Ellenby, Visionary Who Helped Create Early Laptop, Dies at 75". The New York Times. 26 August 2016. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  3. ^ Johnstone, Bob (2003). Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers, and the Transformation of Learning. iUniverse. p. 155. ISBN 9780595288427. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b c "Laptop Visionary John Ellenby Dies". PC Magazine. 30 August 2016. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  5. ^ a b c Thomson, Iain (30 August 2016). "John Ellenby, British inventor of the first laptop, powers off". The Register. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  6. ^ Katz, Barry M.; Maeda, John (September 2015). Make It New: A History of Silicon Valley Design. MIT Press. p. 47. ISBN 9780262029636. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  7. ^ Daly, John Augustine (2011). Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300175073. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  8. ^ "High-Finance High Tech". PC Magazine. 1983. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  9. ^ "Laptop pioneer John Ellenby dies". CNET. 29 August 2016. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  10. ^ Peddie, John (June 2013). The History of Visual Magic in Computers: How Beautiful Images are Made in CAD, 3D, VR and AR. Springer Science+Business Media. pp. 197–198. ISBN 9781447149323. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  11. ^ "Appointments". InfoWorld. 19 February 1990. p. 44. Retrieved 2 September 2016.
  12. ^ "Agilis Unveils Hand-Held Workstations". InfoWorld. 12 June 1989. p. 5. Retrieved 2 September 2016.

External links[edit]

  • In memory of John Ellenby [1]