The World’s (Very) First “Netbook”

Netbooks are making huge waves within the hardware and software industries today, but not many would believe that the whole Netbook craze actually started back around 1996 with the Toshiba Libretto 70CT. Termed technically as a subnotebook because of its small dimensions (given below), the computer is the first that fits all of the qualifications of being what we would call a Netbook today, due in part to its built-in Infrared and PCMCIA hardware, and it’s (albeit early) web browsing software.

The First Netbook Computer

The hardware includes the two (potentially) wireless PCMCIA and Infrared network connections, Windows 95 OSR 2 with Internet Explorer 2.0, a whole 16MB of RAM and a 120Mhz Intel Pentium processor (we’re flying now!).

A further look at the hardware reveals even more Netbook-ish hardware/software trends (and pictures below), given today’s standards for Netbook qualifications.

The Libretto (70CT) was certainly not the first small (8″) form factor laptop produced in the early 90′s, but it was the first to be considered a Netbook given today’s standards because of it’s PCMCIA and Infrared connections, used for wireless network connectivity and possibly even via a phone card. The inclusion of Internet Explorer 2.0 within the software also contributes to its ability to be officially termed a “Netbook” (more on this below).

The hardware includes an 8″ wide, 5″ deep and almost 1.5″ form factor containing a whopping 16MB of RAM, a 120Mhz Intel Pentium processor (with added MMX technology!) and a whole 30-45 minutes of battery life.

The software running on the “Netbook” is Windows 95 OSR2, with Included Internet Explorer 2.0 and the Windows 95 Plus! pack of software. The mouse is the nub/nipple/clit mouse, given the lack of trackpad hardware and the only alternative being the bulky ball-based mice of the time, and the actual mouse buttons are mounted on the back.

I don’t consider Internet Explorer 2.0 being the most supported browser for web-based applications (hell, I don’t even support 6 or 7), and 16MB doesn’t sound like a whole lot of RAM for storing a large web page and JavaScript into memory along with the operating system, but around the year 1996 this laptop/subnotebook/netbook would meet all the requirements given its environment to be called a Netbook as we would today.

Other hardware besides what was listed above includes a (HiFi?) 1/4″ sound port on the back, a mono speaker on the front above the mouse, and a proprietary docking port on the bottom.

The Pentium MMX and bulky battery connector doesn’t exactly make this ACPI-lacking portable the most environmentally-friendly book of all time, but it is certain that it must have gotten the job done in its time.

The screen was a very low-resolution (640×480) 5″ LCD screen, leaving enough room on the front for the mouse, speaker, power button, and all-too-important logos of Intel and Toshiba.

While I write this largely with humorous intent, it is worth noting the satire I intend to make of the industry’s buzzwords for modern products that sometimes have been out for quite a while, e.g. cloud computing versus clustering/distributed applications and “high-speed Internet” versus what a T1/ATM connection was over decade ago.

Also, something patent trolls working for Toshiba might wish to investigate are the 22 patents listed on the bottom of the Libretto model (pictured below). What these patents cover and how many modern netbooks/subnotebooks violate these are unknown to me, although I’m sure you could find a few with the right research as these patents were approved less than 25 years ago.

Picture Gallery

These (possibly slow-loading) pictures display several features of the computer, displaying as many of its features as possible (and probably killing our bandwidth):

Infrared and (HiFi?) sound port

PCMCIA phone card, and visible mouse buttons

Examination of the mouse

Not exactly a low-power dual core...

Typical Netbook keyboard

Note the scrunched-up fingers while typing

Behind The Coffee Desk’s Scenes

Yeah, I was typing another article on Apple, and while suffering mild writer’s block I looked around and saw this Libretto laying partially under my desk. Being a bit of a netbook advocate, I picked it up, dusted it off and after looking at it and comparing it to Asus Netbook pics, I saw a better potential article. So I grabbed my camera and this article was born.

I didn’t mean to inject so much Sprint product-placement into the site, but I just wanted to show pictures of it with the PCMCIA phone card just for comparison.

Also, it can run Linux, as demonstrated via its appearance in the movie Revolution OS.

This isn’t how most of The Coffee Desk’s stories are written, and I usually collaborate with the other writers for official posts, but I just couldn’t pass this one up. I hope everyone enjoys this article from both a satirical, humorous and (somewhat) informational perspective, as that is what it was intended to be.

And if you enjoyed it, then by all means vote for it in the sidebar to the right!

Anthony

Anthony Cargile is the founder and former editor-in-chief of The Coffee Desk. He is currently employed by a private company as an e-commerce web designer, and has extensive experience in many programming languages, networking technologies and operating system theory and design. He currently develops for several open source projects in his free time from school and work.

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12 Comments

  1. mto from ma January 22, 2010

    Hi,
    I still have my Libretto 70CT. It’s a little jewel – beautifully made – sturdy, solid. I just booted it up and it works as well as the day I bought it.

    Mine runs Win98 (I think pre-installed, but maybe I upgraded, I forget). It appears I bought it in early ’01.
    I bought it for traveling in Europe, and it was fantastic – used it for several years thereafter in my travels.

    Yes, it was expensive at the time, but keep in mind that full-size laptops then were MUCH more expensive in relative dollars than they are now.

    @foojah – at the time, the point was not cost, it was the CONVENIENCE/portability of such a small light laptop, keeping in mind that a ‘regular’ full size laptop at the time was around 6 or 7 pounds.

    Since I travel a LOT and have a bad back I’ve since owned a Sony Vaio sub-mini from 2002 which I still own, and I am now looking at the ASUS EEE netbooks.

    Just dug the Libretto out from my stored stuff, which is why I was Googling it and found this article. I was thinking of putting it on Ebay, but I’m now actually considering trying to install a wireless PCMIA card modem just for the heck of it.
    @LibrettoWorld – what do you think?

    Even if I could just use it for e-mail, it would be faster than my iPhone, at least for typing. I know they still have Lib 70 drivers on the Tosh site!
    But, I am NOT up for switching to a Linux OS.

    I have tiny fingers so the keyboard wasn’t much of a problem, I actually have trouble typing on a full size desktop keyboard, but I imagine it might have been for men with big fingers.

  2. jordydavis October 14, 2009

    What about the HP Jornada? I remember those and they were pretty much a netbook, where you could get them extremely cheap on ebay.

  3. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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  4. IMHO the Libretto is the mother of all netbooks. But, the 70ct is njot the forst one. On http://www.silverace.com/libretto/ you will find the history of this magnificant mini laptop.
    Myself, I also dedicated a website to the Libretto, because there should be a place where Libretto owners and lovers can still get help for the little laptop.

  5. Jason May 25, 2009

    I had one of these, I used it for web development on the bus to and from uni. Homesite, Photoshop, Netscape .. I pushed the damn thing to its (admittedly easy to hit) limits! :)

    I loved it to bits … but it got stolen :(

  6. afunbee May 11, 2009

    I have a Mitsubishi Amity subnotebook. 122Mhz, 48MB ram, 640×480 screen. I recently installed Damn Small Linux to replace Windows 95. I use “elinks” (command line web browser) which gets to most sites that I access. I installed a Wifi card for wireless access. Battery life is poor and I was unable to run off Compact Flash to IDE adapter to go solid state.

  7. @Peet:

    It really depends on your perception of what a netbook is, but I doubt that the Atari had wireless netbook capability, or even a full-blown mainstream operating system as I would consider a netbook to have.

    @beazer:

    I didn’t consider the models prior to the 70CT because of its lower processing capabilities as opposed to the faster (and, inherently, more Netbook-ish) 70CT that surpassed it later on that I featured here.

  8. beazer May 11, 2009

    And there were earlier models than the 70CT. These were great at the time – I used it when I was travelling to remote offices, plugged in an external monitor and keyboard when I was in the office, or tried to coax as much battery time as possible on flights.

    I reckon the usage would be similar to todays netbooks, just the technology has got a lot better now.

    I don’t use it much, but my 50CT still runs (on a current linux distro – I ditched the Windows install years ago).

  9. Peet McKimmie May 11, 2009

    I have an Atari Portfolio from 1989 with a modem card, running Lynx. Surely *that* is the first “Netbook”?

  10. When these came out they were terrific for executives that were always wanting something small and portable. Larger laptops were too much to lug around, but this thing was ideal. We put our 3270 emulation software on it so they could have “PROFS”, an IBM application that provided email as well as other functionality.

  11. @foojah

    Yes, this particular computer is not the cheapest of its league (although $2000 for a laptop circa 1996 was pretty cheap), but the point is that it shares all of the qualities of today’s modern netbooks, only minus the cost and only supporting a SSD or Linux installation via minor hacking.

  12. foojah May 10, 2009

    This whole article is flawed. The main thing with netbooks is that they are CHEAP! This thing was phenomenally expensive back in the day,

    We have always had ultraportables or subnotebooks, but the thing which really made them popular was the fact that you could get a tiny laptop without spending $2000+

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