30 Years of ThinkPad & TrackPoint



Let's think about tech from the last 30 years. From then to now, CDs, DVDs, Zip disks, PowerPC-based Macs, iPods and feature phones have all come and gone. Almost all personal computer ecosystems from the '80s that survived into the '90s collapsed. In 1992, Sega was trading blows with Nintendo but now they are a husk of their former self. From 1992 onwards, we have seen the launches of Windows 3.1, NT 3.1, NT 3.51, 95, NT 4.0, 98, 98 SE, 2000, Me, XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, 10 and 11. Linux went from being a relatively obscure project from the previous year to leading smartphones through Android and completely devouring the web server and supercomputer OS usage shares. However, the ThinkPad and people's love for them has endured all this time...

Whilst Admiral Shark's Keyboards is as the name implies keyboard-focused, I very much enjoy ThinkPads, and of course derived from them are plenty of TrackPoint keyboards that this website has covered extensively. The ThinkPad whose 30th anniversary we're celebrating today - the 700 - is also central to a major family of IBM keyboards. So I've cooked up this page as a celebration, a statement on how ThinkPads have impacted me and dropped a few links on where you can learn more.

Source: Lenovo

Not many product families can boast about 30 years of still being relevant! Whilst we've seen over the last decade many people debate the direction Lenovo is taking the brand, credit where credit is due, ThinkPad is still kicking. The infographic above highlights some of the achievements IBM and Lenovo have made in that time. ThinkPads have also been literally out of this world, with their notable use onboard NASA Space Shuttles in the mid-'90s and their use aboard the International Space Station - perhaps the greatest observable symbol of human advancement, achievement and international cooperation - for so long.

Source: Thomas Pesquet

Sound good? If so, here are some cool places to check out for more info on ThinkPads!

Thumbnail used under fair dealing
Thumbnail used under fair dealing

Laptop Retrospective

Whilst they cover more than just ThinkPads, Laptop Retrospective has some amazing ThinkPad content. Over the last two weeks, they've been posting parts of interviews they've had with Tom Hardy and David Hill (both former IBMers and key design experts) as part of their Think Design Stories series in celebration of this anniversary.

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The most obvious place to learn more about ThinkPads. It doesn't seem to have much on the latest models these days, but it's still a great resource for historical ThinkPad models, including stuff like the xx20 and xx30 series that many ThinkPad enthusiasts continue to love and recommend these days. This was how I started getting back into ThinkPads in 2017.

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In addition to their blog, Saucey (DankPads) maintains a laptop buying guide, ThinkPad price guide and ThinkPad timelines that can certainly be useful for many prospective ThinkPad owners and enthusiasts.

ThinkPads and I

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As I proudly state on this website's introduction, a ThinkPad was what introduced me to IBM tech in the first place. My first laptop was an IBM T21 that I very much appreciated its style and utility when I was just a wee boy and surrounded by a cult of PowerBooks/MacBooks (I have nothing against people that used them now, but I was very competitive when I was young). I also loved its keyboard. I then took an extended break from ThinkPads during my later high school years and early university years, using a mix of disappointing Asus, decent Dell Latitude and meh HP laptops and a particular Microsoft Surface Pro 4 that left a bad taste in my mouth ever since. I returned to ThinkPads in Q4 2017 when I bought an IBM T41 from a friend and then a Lenovo R60e off eBay for a very good price. I originally just wanted them as neat Linux machines to mess around with but I quickly found myself replacing most of the other computers in my life with ThinkPads, acquiring an X200T, X220, T430 and W530 not long after that all proved extremely useful for university life. The flame had been reignited and it all set the stage for the launch of the original version of this website!

My collection has been on a downwards trend since 2020 after my content creation focus shifted to keyboards and I've needed more spare money, but see above for the current favourites in my collection. Most of them are of the big variety, but the T480 that I recently purchased has had me pleasantly surprised. Whilst my collection is no longer vast, see below some cool photos from when it was at its peak!

The 700

Above all though, I owe the IBM ThinkPad 700 a huge thank you. Readers of this website will know I ramble on about IBM buckling sleeve key-switches quite a bit and the ThinkPad 700 is a big reason why the IBMs Model M6 and M6-1 ThinkPad and other portable computer keyboard assemblies succeeded and pushed this key-switch to the forefront for 4 years. The ThinkPad keyboard pedigree started here.

TrackPoint keyboards and I

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Central to the ThinkPad is of course its TrackPoint pointing stick, the thing that allows me to keep my hands on the keyboard at all times. I know there's a bit of a debate whether TrackPoints are really needed in a desktop environment but I've found TrackPoint keyboards to still be useful, especially enabling me to carry a single input device I can take to my university labs and library so I don't have to use gross public keyboards and mice. As such, I've now curated a wide TrackPoint keyboard arsenal that allows me to mix up my keyboard experience and create informative and useful content with first-hand experience.

One of the goals of Admiral Shark's Keyboards is to highlight and tackle as many nuances as possible. Like the fact not all pointing sticks are equal and even IBM used alternative technologies at times, that seemingly the same keyboards made be different inside depending on when they're made, and especially the fact IBM didn't stop marketing some TrackPoint/TrackPoint-like keyboards after Lenovo bought IBM Personal Computing Division in 2005! Being a ThinkPad enthusiast has certainly improved the scope of content I'm able to offer.

Whilst the days of me writing laptop-related content are long over, ThinkPad and its related technologies are closely intertwined with IBM keyboards as I've made clear above. As such, I have a lot of educational content on ThinkPad/TrackPoint keyboards worth checking out if you fancy some reading!

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TrackPoint, pointing stick, and UltraNav keyboards

Simply, just a list of all known keyboards from IBM and family with TrackPoint pointing sticks or similar technologies. It spans from 1992 to the present day, including a photo of each keyboard, a brief description and a few symbols that quickly indicate the keyboard's key features.

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Model M4 & M4-1 Space Saver Keyboard

My wiki page on the result of IBM taking its well-regarded L40SX laptop keyboard and making a desktop keyboard from it. Not only that, creating IBM's first TrackPoint keyboard in the process of doing so. With its buckling sleeve key-switches, the M4s are in my opinion very underrated keyboards. If nothing else, a very good first effort for a TrackPoint keyboard.

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Revealed: The story of the IBM Model M4 family

My article from last July was about how I managed to find out all the info to inform the wiki page mentioned above. Whilst people in the community have always been familiar with Models M4 and M4-1, not much was actually known about them, so I did my research and presented my findings in this article. It was also my first large editorial work on this site.

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Revealed: IBM Model M3 & M6 laptop buckling sleeves keyboards

This is presently my latest massive research article that I worked on during the entire latter half of 2021 and published that December. After writing the M4 article, I wanted to continue shining a light on its M3, M6 and M6-1 siblings. I went through what they are, why I think they're special, and found a lot of IBM PS/2, PS/Note and ThinkPad and many third-party laptops using IBM buckling sleeve keyboards.

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Model M13 TrackPoint II Keyboard

My wiki page on the IBM Model M13, no doubt the coolest and most remarkable TrackPoint keyboard IBM ever marketed. Included are specs, general design details, possible branding, info about its connectivity and a list of known variants. There are more M13s than you might think... This wiki page was released recently.

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SK-8835, SK-8840 & SK-8845 pointing stick & UltraNav keyboards

My wiki page on perhaps the most common family of IBM pointing stick and UltraNav keyboards. Included are some backstory, design details, nomenclature and a list of variants.

And that's basically it! I initially planned something more for the anniversary but the idea fell apart at the last moment... Ah well, such is life. But I hope you enjoyed this read anyway, and even if you're not big on the ThinkPad aesthetic or features, can appreciate their importance and the motivation they've given behind some of the best content on Admiral Shark's Keyboards!



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