Laptop Trailblazer John Ellenby Dies at 75

British-born engineer John Ellenby a pioneer of the modern laptop computer, passed away at the age of 75 in San Francisco on Aug. 17. The New York Times first reported the news on Friday (Aug. 26).  Ellenby's passing was confirmed by his son Thomas, but no cause of death has been disclosed.

After a stint at Xerox, Ellenby was the founder of Grid Systems, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company that produced the Compass, a thick black clamshell computer with an orange electroluminescent display. It was released in 1982 for $8,150 -- more than $20,000 in today's money.

That price didn't attract the average consumer, but the government bought it up. A number of security advisors and government agencies flocked to the mobile computer.

An interesting tidbit from the Times:

"NASA also used one as a backup navigational device in its space shuttle program. One was aboard the Challenger on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, when a rocket-booster failure destroyed the craft shortly after liftoff from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The Compass, which had been attached to a dashboard with Velcro, was recovered from the debris and found to be still working."

Ellenby is survived by his sons, Thomas and Peter, as well as a granddaughter.

According to CNN Money, laptops surpassed desktops in sales for the first time in 2005, confirming Ellenby's vision for computing.