back to article The designer of the IBM ThinkPad has died

The ThinkPad’s answer to Johny Ive has died. Richard Sapper, a German industrial designer who orchestrated the look of the iconic laptop for IBM, was 83 years old. He designed lots more stuff - you can read his obituary here. We shall focus our commemoration on the IBM ThinkPad, which hit the business world in 1992 and …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. IT Hack

    Still have one somewhere. Have to say that I loved the stinkpad and its nipple. Quite liked the look at the time as well.

    ummm...this is not what it seems!

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      no, it's far worse, I've only heard of this mouse alternative being referred to as the clitoris, seems you're a boob man...

  3. Erik4872

    Lenovo's latest ThinkPad design did him in. :-)

    Oh well, hopefully the clean ThinkPad design will come back in a "retro" phase 10 or 20 years from now.

    I think I'm one of a dying breed that likes the boring, functional ThinkPad design. It would be interesting to see what happened if Lenovo licensed the design to a third party and let them keep making similar machines while they set their sights on copying Apple some more. (Lexmark did this when they stopped manufacturing IBM Model M keyboards (the clicky ones) and you can still buy them from the new manufacturer at

    1. goldcd

      Re: Lenovo's latest ThinkPad design did him in. :-)

      Might not take *that* long

      1. stucs201

        Re: Lenovo's latest ThinkPad design did him in. :-)

        Did I read that right? They're considering a 16:10 screen instead of the usual 16:9? That alone will earn the retro model some fans around here.

    2. Alan Edwards

      Re: Lenovo's latest ThinkPad design did him in. :-)

      > I think I'm one of a dying breed that likes the boring, functional ThinkPad design

      You're not the only one left, my T410 is brilliant. I don't like the track nipple though, first thing I did with mine was remove the red rubber bit. It weighs a ton with the big 9-cell battery, but it's built like a tank.

      I still remember many years ago using one as a tea tray, the rubber coating stopped the plastic vending machine cups sliding around.

    3. Medixstiff

      Re: Lenovo's latest ThinkPad design did him in. :-)

      "I think I'm one of a dying breed that likes the boring, functional ThinkPad design. "

      Nope we love them at work, although we might transition across to the Surface depending on how the new "Modular ThinkPad X1" stacks up against it.

      The only sticking point with the Surface is no inbuilt LTE, which with our mobile sales guys means a dongle out the side.

      My brother can attest to the toughness of ThinkPad's, he came off his bike one wet day due to the combination of first rains for the season mixing with oil build up on the road causing him to come off the bike trying to dodge an idiot driver pulling out in front of him. The thing he remembers most clearly is his ThinkPad coming out of the pannier and sliding past him on it's lid. After picking his bike and laptop back up, there's was only a slight scratch on the lid and it worked perfectly.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nipple is the polite term for the stinkpad tracking device

    In most of the world it is known as something else (a different part of anatomy).

    1. Robert Helpmann??

      Re: Nipple is the polite term for the stinkpad tracking device

      Hey, whatever makes you (and it, I suppose) happy.

    2. JeffyPoooh

      Re: Nipple is the polite term for the stinkpad tracking device

      'Breast Wart' in German, according to James May.

  5. John Robson Silver badge

    Typing on one now....

    Well, the Lenovo version...

    Got two in the loft at home, and a docking station...

  6. Justicesays

    Track points are much better than touch pads!

    I always use the track point on my (work) IBM laptop , and disable the touch pad were possible.

    I only wish they were available on all laptops.

    If a laptop doesn't have a track point, I have to attach a mouse to have any decent control.

    1. goldcd

      I used to agree with you

      but track pads with added size and all those multi-touch and gestures are better - apart from when I'm editing text. Nipple is much less intrusive and you almost learn to knock the sides of it, as if you were trying to knock the cursor about.

      I can't be the only one to think this, as nipples are now pretty much only available on business laptops. Having both is best of both worlds. My only concern when we switched from Lenovo to HP for latest round of laptops, was whether I'd get my nipple.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I used to agree with you

        Depends on the use case.

        A gigantic multi-touch gesture enabled touchpad has its advantages if you are working in the comfort of your living room with your legs stretched in front of the fire.

        An Stinkpad style cl*t*r*s is better if you are stuck in the economy seat in row 40+ on a Luftwaffe A340 for a 12hour SFO to FRA torture session.

        If you are trying to work on public transport it is no contest - the cl*t*r*s beats the touchpad. It is a pity they do not put it on ultra-portables nowdays. Having a touchpad there is a massive waste of space - it forces all of them to have an inch of dead space and small keys. At the very least, they could have put the touchpad on the side (the form factor forced by the stupid widescreen format allows for that anyway).

    2. A. N. Other 1

      Re: Track points are much better than touch pads!

      I agree entirely!

      I bought my first ThinkPad - a T40p - in 2003 and ever since, I've only bought notebook computers with a TrackPoint. I find it far superior to a pad - I never know in which area I'm supposed to fondle, stroke or prod it and how many digits to use!

      As for the last part of the article: "... and still features the red nipple - a somewhat retro feature in 2016." the author has obviously never owned a ThinkPad. There's nothing "retro" about a brilliant innovation which works as well now as when it was invented.

      RIP Richard Sapper.

    3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Track points are much better than touch pads!

      Thank You Sir and rest in peace.

      (GO icon - to Design Heaven)

      Only hope Lenovo wake up and stop the rot before it is too late. Having used ThinkPads for the last 20 years, the only down note was being given a recent model at work with a chiclet/island keyboard. Hands would never correctly register on the keyboard and I'd start typing and have to go back because the fingers were pressing the wrong keys. I may have to stockpile a few with decent keyboards off ebay soon.

      TrackPoint - well, I was scrolling down this page with no hand or finger movement - just a bit of pressure on the TrackPoint with the index finger.

    4. wheelbearing

      And click-pads have the worst of both worlds!

      Only had use of trackpad laptops before first using a nipple(anyone remember the Apple PowerBook Duo/Duo Dock?) so I hated the Thinkpad nipple when I first had to use it. By the time I could get any machine I wanted I'd become a convert and bought a Thinkpad 1834.

      One thing I noticed about the nipple was that the red colour made it look a bit grubby after a few years heavy use. No sniggering.

      My last Thinkpad was a Lenovo with a wretched click-pad - incredibly crap bit of UI design, and you can't even disable the super naff click feature. You can get used to it, but then people get used to wiping their arses with leaves if they have to.

    5. enormous c word

      Re: Track points are much better than touch pads!

      Trackpads / touchpads are useless - if you used a Thinkpad and enjoy working quickly and efficiently, then you use your keyboard and the trackpoint. touchpads are so slow and unwieldy. Shame they never really caught on beyond IBM / Lenovo. I bought (at great expense) a space-saver USB rack keyboard (essentially a Thinkpad USB keyboard complete with trackpoint) to make any other device I have to use usable. Touchpads waste huge amounts of space and constantly get in the way/get brushed by your palm when typing quickly which moves the pointer randomly.

  7. Big O

    Obligatory xkcd:

    1. David Bird
      Thumb Up

      I'm with Randall.

  8. Goatshadow

    Dare we imagine what style of casket he was buried in?

    1. Loud Speaker

      The kind with high performance roller bearings - ideal for spinning in!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In a world of 20,000 Dells...

    ...mine is the only Thinkpad. I dont use the nipple much but it's very useful if you've got mucky hands and the trackpad doesn't recognise your fingers. So for this Richard, I will raise a glass.

    AC because if that's not more than just metadata then nothing is!

  10. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Butterfly keyboard

    Blah, to heck with the clitmouse... who designed that wonderful Thinkpad butterfly keyboard?? I only got to use one for a couple weeks, but it was a marvel.

    1. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

      Re: Butterfly keyboard

      John Karidis designed the keyboard. Richard Sapper was also involved.

  11. Ashley_Pomeroy

    The ThinkPad was originally inspired by Japanese bento lunchboxes. It's more obvious with the earlier models - the battery, hard drive, and expansion slot are arranged inside the case like portions in a bento meal. The analogy was lost in the late 1990s, when laptops became thinner and less boxy overall.

    I wrote a blog post about the machine's history a while back. The first ThinkPad wasn't actually a ThinkPad at all, it was sold in Japan as the PS/55 Note. It didn't have a trackpoint nipple. It was launched in parallel with the IBM L40SX, and it's fascinating to compare the two designs - there's a generational gap between them. I often wonder how much computing power you could get into an old-fashioned mid-1990s ThinkPad case, using modern technology. You'd have a supercomputer.

    I still use a ThinkPad X61. It was the last ultraportable with a 4:3 screen; it's a Core II Duo, and with an SSD it has aged gracefully. IBM seemed to use the ThinkPad brand to put out odd ideas that they couldn't use otherwise. There was the TransNote, a kind of writing pad/digitiser, the 701 with its butterfly keyboard, the ThinkPad 755CV with a transparent screen that you were supposed to put on top of an overhead projector(!). and the 800-series, that had PowerPCs and ran NT and AIX.

    I have a 1999 ThinkPad 600X, made in Scotland, and it still feels really tough. IBM didn't have to make their laptops look distinctive and Richard Sapper must have fought hard to get IBM to accept such a simple design - and to keep using it. I can't think of another line of PC laptops that has maintained the same basic configuration since the 1990s. Well done that man.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      >I still use a ThinkPad X61. It was the last ultraportable with a 4:3 screen;

      Yep! The only thing close is the 3:2 screen on a MS Surface Book, but it has some compromises (and strengths) of is own.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      The first ThinkPad wasn't actually a ThinkPad at all, it was sold in Japan as the PS/55 Note

      IBM's history-of-the-IBM-PC site says the PS/55 Note "was a hit in Japan and Europe", but apparently they were sold in the US as well, at least briefly. The company I worked for at the time bought a couple for sales reps, and I eventually inherited one of them. It was definitely branded with the "Note" name, not "ThinkPad".

      Since then I've had a series of ThinkPads, and they were all good or great. The Lenovo L512 I have as my personal machine gave me trouble with random shutdowns for a while, but turned it that was just a matter of badly-clogged cooling vents. (Apparently some rebels had been trying to fire missiles into them.)

      That said, I have to admit that the Dell Latitude E6540 I have for work isn't bad, and it too features an isometric "mouse".

  12. Professur

    I've still got my 360cs ... and it still runs. W95, office 97.

  13. Dr Trevor Marshall

    I just threw away my Lenovo X230, bought a refurb X220

    I finally tired of Lenovo ruining the keyboard and trackpoint in their latest models, and went back to a 2012 laptop (which is within 20% of today's CPU speed in any case). Now I have the orginal IBM Thinkpad keyboard again (OK, nearly original), with a UEFI BIOS that actually allows you to turn off all the (known) backdoors, and revert to "Legacy" mode. It was quite painless, really. I paid $240 for the as-new X220, added a 1Gig SSD, and it really hums... Luv it!

    So long, and thanks for all the fish, Richard Sapper, you have made my life so much more enjoyable these past two decades...

  14. Terry Cloth

    Nipple mouse not perfect, but better than any alternative

    The trouble with the Trackpoint is that it responds to force, not motion, and the human nervous system is rotten at calibrating force. That notwithstanding, it means that a touch typist needn't move the fingers from the home row, and as a programmer, I'm all text all the time. The only improvement I can see would be if they could figure how to replace it with a trackball.

    [Speaking as the owner of a T60, currently down, waiting for a replacement motherboard.]

  15. Oldfogey

    Still in use!

    Just across the room is a 770EX, running XP and still in daily use for Office 97, Calibre, and some old school games.

    It's not connected to the internet, so no security risk, and it still does what it always did, perfectly well.

    Couple more upstairs, and when I have time I am going to try putting Win7 on - supposed to be possible - and some flavour of Linux to play with for the future.

  16. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Another Sapper design

    He was also famous for his adjustable Tizo desk lamp, which I saw in the London Design useum years ago. We were told that a little red-tipped stalk was added to the lamp head against Richard Sapper's original design, users were burning their hands on the hot halogen bulb (or worse, leave the lamp resting on some desk papers and start a fire)

    Thanks to LED bulbs, he lamp is now sold as he designed it.

  17. JeffyPoooh

    Crikey. RIP. Bless.

    I bought a good used ThinkPad (Win 7 Pro, i5, nice) off eBay and liked it so much that I bought four more similar. They're the T410, T410s, T510. Cheap as chips. Handed out two to the kids and the rest for me. Lovely design. Endless ports. Cheap huge batteries. Tough as nails. One kid as been playing Steam games steady for over a year; apparently fast enough with the discrete video chip. All happy.

    RIP Mr Sapper. Thank you.

  18. Rumournz

    I think everyone Interested in IT should spend some time with the older Thinkpads. They set a benchmark for reliability (not to mention near indestructability) Indeed my R60 is still chugging away - I'm typing this on it :) makes later laptops feel like flimsy toys :)

    1. trapper


      My T60 was in a house fire. The bag was melted around it and then it was fire-hosed. Then the dripping mess was tossed out of the house onto a heap of rubbish on my lawn and frozen overnight. I cut it out of the bag, popped the DVD drive, the battery and the HD, wiped it down and set it aside to dry for several days. Then I reassembled it and it booted right up. That was two years ago, and it's still running fine. I bought it new because I wanted a tank. I got one! That's one tough laptop.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. GeezaGaz

    truly great machines

    I owned a thinkpad back in the mid 90s and what a joy it was.

    Sadly everything else IBM produce (hardware and especially software) is complete and utter shite.

  20. Roj Blake Silver badge

    My favourite was the 701c with its innovative butterfly keyboard. Well, I say favourite, it certainly kept the lads in the workshop busy.

  21. tempo

    R.I.P., Richard Sapper

    That old 700 is the only one of my Thinkpads that isn't still working. They just keep on ticking, long after they're technologically obsolete (Win NT4, floppy drive, no USB ports on the 380...)

    And I've loved the trackpoint on all of them. These new Lenovo things that aren't Thinkpads are just that: things.

  22. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Currently have an X61 and various others, used to own a 701CS

    The X61 is pretty decent and expandable, but the screen resolution is getting to me a little. The X220 can have a high resolution panel hacked into it using a controller board that combines the single link LVDS signal and one of the displayport lines..

    The 701CS was lovely at the time - my first (personally purchased!) Thinkpad, but it wasn't as durable as some other Thinkpads, and the butterfly keyboard not as solid. Once the X series came along there wasn't much point. It ran OS/2 well, though.

    It's also possible to make a credible portable retro gaming PC with a Thinkpad 600/760/765/770 and a SelectaDock - one or more full size ISA slots allow for a soundcard, and the Trident display chipset should be highly compatible with legacy (DOS) games.

  23. Nifty

    Someone needs to come out with Thinkpad Linux, a version that is guaranteed to have working drivers for graphics, WiFi and Bluetooth etc for every model, and which performs usably on legacy machines as well as current ones. This would give old Thinkpad hardware a new lease.

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      You mean

  24. Jock in a Frock

    Lenovo have lost the plot

    My work provided Lenovo L440 has some serious design faults. No Caps Lock LED, no HDD activity light, Fn Lock behaviour erratic, poor quality hinges

    Bring back my Toughbook CF-71.

    1. Paul

      Re: Lenovo have lost the plot

      At previous job I had a T540p. Same problems: no indicator lights for caps lock, wifi, hard drive, battery charging. Also there were no mouse buttons at all, just a horrible track pad. I was glad to surrender it when I left.

      It seems that in the T550 that Lenovo went back to a previous design and brought back mouse buttons etc.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lenovo have lost the plot

      My first ThinkPad was the monochrome 700C. I've had about 12 of them since then. After the 700 series, the classics were the X100, T42, T400 and the X1 (pre-carbon). My biggest disappointment is my current Helix. The tactile sensation of the click pad is awful and its top heavy because all of the weight except the second battery is in the detachable display. You can't tilt the display back far enough because it falls over backwards. It's Lenovo trying to do too much.

  25. Kells

    We just retired our last T60 in the office last week. It was a great computer and worked flawlessly for many years.

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