Butterflies are Free

John Karidis always dreamed of a new butterfly

Today started out like any other day for me, an early morning conference call, calendar planning with Bev, some ThinkPad strategy sessions, and a few design detail meetings filled my calendar. Shortly after lunch, however, all of these things became significantly less important. Sadly, I received word that my good friend John Karidis had lost his 5 year battle with cancer.  I was devastated. For those of you who don't know, John was the engineering inspiration and driving force behind the ThinkPad 701c. You can read that as, he invented it. Most people may remember this iconic ThinkPad by the code name "Butterfly". The engineering achievement associated with this ThinkPad was incredible. The entire idea of creating a Thinkpad with an expandable keyboard stands out in a way unimaginable to most. You can watch the original television advertisement for it here. Aside from this milestone career achievement, John was quite simply put, the best engineer I ever met, or had the honor to work with. He was an IBM Distinguished Engineer at a level that deserved a special title. News of his passing brought a tear to my eye. I always knew this was a foreseeable outcome to his long illness, but I was less than prepared for the ending. Some things in life just aren't fair.


Butterfly was the first ThinkPad I ever owned, and I must admit, the one with the most incredible crowd appeal. Even today, 17 years after introduction to market, it still brings a smile to people's faces. When I demonstrate how it works, people want more. How can anyone help but smile at this incredible engineering marvel? John got it right. Apparently, the Museum of Modern Art agreed, they added it to their permanent collection shortly after it launched. Instant design classic courtesy of John. I love how you can see a ThinkPad, or should I say a "Karidis", in the same museum as a Picasso.

John had many nicknames at IBM. "Hingineer" was an internal favorite of many, but mine was IBM's "Q". If you have ever seen a James Bond Movie, you know who I am talking about. If I was going into battle with evil enemy forces, I certainly wanted "Q" on my team. Wouldn't you want a guy like this on yours? Any problem, large or small, was approached with the same level of creativitiy, enthusiasm and knowledge. He did not know the meaning of the word no. He was a fountain of ideas, a welcome relief to a designer who all too often had to hear the words " can't do it, won't work, never been done before " . Humble and brilliant are terms that rarely are used together to descibe a person, but in the case of John, they lived together on a daily basis.

I for one will never forget John. The New York City steak dinners, discussions about life, bottles of way too expensive wine, and the many projects we worked on together will always have a special place in my heart. Otis, Cyberphone, Chameleon, Ironhorse, Origami, Houdini, TransNote, Butterfly 2, and so many others have come and gone, but his persona and creative legacy lives on. He helped make ThinkPad, and perhaps more importantly to me, my life special. I can't wait to work with him again. My sincerest condolences to John's family and all who loved him. Godspeed John.

David Hill