I first encountered the name Steve Hamm when I was doing research on a ThinkPad to track down and cover for the channel. I had consulted several lists to see what would be some fun and unique models to try and acquire that weren’t overly expensive. There are some really cool ThinkPads out there, but some are simply not being sold online or if they are, go for significant amounts of money, ready for museums.
I settled on learning more about the ThinkPad X300 and quickly, after a few searches in a variety of places, one of them being YouTube, I found there was little in the way of recent coverage and discussion about the X300 and its underappreciated role in laptop design. However, one of the items I did find was a talk that Steve Hamm gave on the Microsoft Research channel. You can find the full video below.
After watching the first hour of Steve’s talk, I was intrigued. Steve had been a technology journalist for over 20 years at the point to wrote “The Race for Perfect: Inside the Quest to Design the Ultimate Portable Computer.” Then I saw the cover of the book and found a digital copy of the dust jacket. The book was primarily focused on the X300, I thought I couldn’t have asked for a better resource. At the end of the project, it was a tie between the treasure-trove of the book and talking to David Hill (who was the head of design at the time for IBM/Lenovo) about the X300.
One thing you need to understand is the book is more than just about the X300. If you want to understand the history of portable computing or ThinkPad development, you need to read this book. The stories and people that he interviewed for the book at first might not seem interconnected but it helps you build an understanding and appreciation for what Lenovo was able to accomplish in the X300. Going all the way back to the early days of portable computing up to what was the present day at the time of publishing gives a crystal clear picture of the significance of computers like the X300. This isn’t just about one laptop, it is a history of mobile computing.
Steve had exclusive access to multiple key people on the X300 project, David Hill included. Originally he was at Lenovo to interview the chairman who just recently completed the purchase of IBM’s PC division. His schedule was packed, but he had a few minutes where he was taken down to the design lab, this is where he and David would meet for the first time. When I spoke to David Hill, he told me about how far Steve’s access went.
They brought him down to the design lab and said, “Hey, this is Steve Hamm, he is from BusinessWeek Magazine, he’s got like, 20 minutes, can you show him something?”
I’m like, okay. So I said, “So what can I show him?”
“Well he’s on a Non-Disclosure-Agreement so you can show him anything.”
So I showed him what were were doing and he was so fascinated with it, he said, “I want to write a book about it.”
So we gave him a complete, insider view of exactly what was happening. He went to Japan and he went to Italy and he met with Richard Sapper, he met with Naihtoh-son. It was kind of funny, I had an interlock call with Naihtoh-son we had a regular kind of call when meeting about various kinds of topics and he said, “Hey do you know this guy Steve Hamm?” and I said “Yeah I do.”
“I met him in Japan, he knows everything.”
I said, “Yeah, he does. We’ve been talking to him and showing him all this stuff. What did you do?”
“Well I figured it must be okay, so I showed him everything.”
David Hill would go on to say that this was completely counter to anything that IBM would have ever allowed. If you haven’t seen my video review of this book, please consider watching it below.
Steve mentions this in the Microsoft Research video above when he talks about the book, but one of the great things about “The Race for Perfect” is he was able to interview and get these accounts first hand from the people that were there with very few exceptions. I will leave the final word with Steve Hamm as it personifies how I felt when I sat down with David Hill to talk to him regarding his role in the X300.
These people are incredible inventors and they need to be remembered.
I hope you enjoy the interview, it was a lot of fun talking to Steve and I am infinitely grateful for the generous gift of his time and sharing. For those looking for an audio version of the interview, you can find it below or click here for the mp3.