The most momentous tech events of the past 30 years

Network World 30th Anniversary: History-making events from Cisco, IBM and Nortel to Facebook, Google and Apple.

tech history 30 years 1
The spectacular and the burn-out

The tech industry mirrors what goes on in regular society – people and companies rise in power one year only to fade away the next. That kind of change is the one constant in the high-tech industry. We have seen some spectacular successes and some incredible flame-outs. In 30 years the tech industry has seen many such transformations from companies such as IBM and Cisco to Nortel (remember them?) to technologies like SNA and Token Ring to Ethernet. Here we try to focus on the most important happenings since our own inception in 1986. Enjoy the ride.

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In the beginning

Network World’s prototype issue came out in January of 1986 and has been the publication of record for the network industry ever since. In that issue, the lead story was AT&T pulling the plug on Net 1000, a grandiose service that the company positioned as a way to link any terminal to any type of computer. That proved to be more difficult than envisioned and AT&T finally gave up on the service.

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The war of the PC worlds

In 1986, Compaq beat IBM to the market using the first Intel 80386 chip inside its PCs, giving it a huge leg up in the growing PC realm (in 1986 there were reportedly 30 million personal computers in the US). IBM had other ideas though and vowing to fight what it classified as clones to its original PC, rolled out the basically proprietary PS/2 a year later. The battle was on and would last seven years as the PS/2 would disappear in 1994.

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Token-Ring LAN

IBM had a hit with its Token-Ring LAN technology but it was short lived. Once 10Base-T Ethernet, an inexpensive, 10Mbps transmission technology that ran across telephone grade unshielded twisted-pair copper media hit the market, you didn’t need a Magic 8-ball to see the outcome. Ethernet has of course moved into anything having a network or needing connectivity – from NASA’s Space Shuttle to Army tanks as well as the world’s corporate backbones.

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First Internet worm

In a move that would launch an entire industry of computer security products and malware, the first Internet worm was launched on Nov. 2,1988 by Cornell student Robert Morris. The non-destructive worm was sort of a proof-of concept but it did cause machines to crash. Ultimately, Morris was sentenced to three years of probation, ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and to perform 400 hours of community service for his violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 – the first time that law was used to convict a person. In an interesting twist he was appointed a professor at MIT in 1999.

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Credit: Reuters/Vincent West
Hypertexted Web

Tim Berners-Lee invented the hypertexted Web in 1989, while working as a software programmer at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory. He wrote the first Web client and server in 1990, and he created the HTML and HTTP protocols and the rest is as they say is history. There are now almost 130 million registered domain names.

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Credit: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
The Cisco Machine

Cisco went public in 1990 and pretty much has never looked back. Founded in 1984 by Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner, Cisco named its first CEO, Bill Graves, in 1987. He ran the company until 1988 when he was succeeded by John Morgridge who took the company public in 1990. Retired CEO John Chambers took over in 1995 and stayed till 2015. Now Charles H. Robbins is the CEO. Cisco has more than 70,000 employees and annual revenue of $ 40.0 billion and is considered the bellwether of the network world. The company has north of 71,000 employees and has bought about 175 other companies since 1993.

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Credit: Reuters/Nigel Treblin
The Internet goes public

From the Computer History Museum: “After the National Science Foundation (NSF) changes its policy, the Internet is for the first time a publicly accessible network with no commercial restrictions. This removes the last major remaining advantage for competing networking and internetworking standards, from OSI to SNA to CompuServe’s own international network. Four years later the NSF will turn over the Internet’s backbone (main high speed lines and nodes) completely to private industry.” The photo here is a visualization of the current ‘net as shown at the recent CeBit show.

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Credit: Reuters/Lou Dematteis
Linux play

At the height of the popularity of the Unix operating system a variant known as Linux came along courtesy of Finnish student, Linus Torvalds. The company most closely linked with the rise of Linux is Red Hat, which was founded in 1993. While it would take years of convincing, the operating system eventually went mainstream with backing from the likes of Dell, IBM, HP and Oracle.

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Credit: Reuters/Eduardo Munoz
E-commerce

Many say true, secure e-commerce really took off after Netscape released its Navigator browser with SSL encryption in October of 1994. After that numerous online services companies sprung up, including Pizza Hut which was one of the pioneers of online storefronts. In 1995 Amazon was born and in 1996 eBay popped up. At the time Forrester said online retail business will hit about $250 billion by 2014. In fact that figure is somewhere north of $750 billion according to a variety of researchers.

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Credit: Reuters/Norbert von der Groeben
Web browser wars

Marc Andreessen co-founded Netscape with Jim Clark in 1994 to market Andreessen’s creation, the Netscape Navigator web browser. Overnight, Andreessen was a tech superstar much to the chagrin of Microsoft and Bill Gates. Redmond fought back with a free browser for Windows, Internet Explorer. The browser wars were on. Netscape in the end couldn’t hold up under the weight of Windows and IE and AOL grabbed up Netscape in 1999 for $4.2 billion.

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Credit: Reuters/Nikhil Monteiro
VoIP

The advent of Voice over IP (VoIP) changed the telecommunications landscape. Most consider the 1995 introduction of a package from VocalTech to be the initial beginning of VoIP in the enterprise. By 2004, when Bank of America said it was going to deploy 180,000 Cisco IP telephones and replace 363 PBXs across 5,000 branches with centralized IP PBXs, VoIP had arrived in the enterprise. Infonetics reported that the worldwide VoIP service market hit just shy of $70 billion in 2014.

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Credit: Reuters/Jim Young
The real battle for the enterprise

The long, slow and at times colorful clash between TCP/IP backers and SNA stalwarts was one of the more acrimonious periods in the industry’s history. IBM introduced the concepts and initial components of SNA in 1974 and by the mid-1990s it was locked in a do-or-die battle with IP’s chief proponent – Cisco. Cisco and the industry had some fits and starts in promoting TCP/IP as a real SNA alternative, at one point forming the Advanced Peer-to-Peer Internetworking (APPI) group to counter IBM’s SNA advanced technology called APPN (Advanced Peer-to-Peer Networking). While APPI was ineffectual and folded in 1993, it planted seeds that would ultimately sow SNA’s demise. IBM sold most of its network business to Cisco in 1999.

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Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni
Google it

Google began as many fledgling companies do, as an idea born in a university setting. In this case two Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, launched a search engine, Google, running on Linux, as an offshoot of a research project begun in 1996. The company was incorporated in 1998 and has become a beast in the technology world, expanding its realm to include self-driven cars, wind energy development and smartphone application development, to name few things.

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Credit: Reuters/Marcelo del Pozo
Telecom reform

After years of lobbying and posturing, Congress finally rewrites the 62-year-old law that controlled - some say hamstrung - the network industry, wrote Network World at the time. The reform bill knocked down long-standing barriers in local and long-distance services, cable television and other markets, and is likely to spawn more hybrid services and corporate mutations - via mergers and partnerships - than any biotechnology lab. Has it worked? The results are iffy and many think the time is ripe for a new law, one that more addresses privacy, net neutrality and broadband,

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Man v. Machine

In a highly publicized game of chess skills, Garry Kasparov became the first world champion to lose a match to a computer under standard time controls, when he lost to the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. The IBM machine was able to calculate 200 million chess moves per second, IBM claimed.The games were considered a rematch, as Kasparov had defeated an earlier version of Deep Blue in 1996.

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Credit: Reuters/SIPHIWE SIBEKO1
The big write off

According to the Computer History Museum, the Compact Disc-ReWritable (CD-RW) was rolled out this year. “This optical disc was used for data storage and in the backing up and transferring of files to various devices. It was less robust than some contemporary storage media, and could only be re-written roughly 1,000 times. However, this factor seldom encumbered users who rarely overwrote data that often on one disc. CD-RWs that were created on CD-RW drives were often unable to be read on CD-ROM drives,” the museum stated.

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Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
Magic wand

General Magic was way ahead of its time, but its bloodline leads directly to today’s smartphones. In 1998, the company announced a service that telcos could offer to let users access e-mail, address books, calendars and news and stock information from a cell phone or Web browser. General Magic, which also built early versions of the PDA with its own “Magic Cap” operating system, licensed the technology to Microsoft and helped build the OnStar service still used today in General Motors cars. The company folded in 2002 though its influence is still felt today. General Magic engineer Tony Fadell would go on to become senior vice president of Apple’s iPod division, and is now known as the Father of the iPod while Andy Rubin, who also worked for General Magic, went on to create Google’s Android.

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Credit: Wikipedia
DEC dies

One of the great computer companies of the tech industry faded away when Digital Equipment Corp. was acquired in June 1998 by Compaq, which subsequently merged with Hewlett-Packard in May 2002. The company sold over 400,000 of its iconic VAX computers. While DEC was a well-respected company and at its zenith some $14 billion in sales it failed to recognize the value of PCs and some other seismic shifts in the industry.

tech history 30 years 20
Credit: Reuters/Andrew Kelly
Free WiFi

From the Computer History Museum: “In 1999, the growing IEEE 802.11b short-range radio networking standard is rebranded “Wi-Fi” by the Wi-Fi Alliance. This is the same year Apple released its "Airport" Wi-Fi router and builds Wi-Fi connectivity into new Macs. These and other consumer products help popularize cable-free connections at work, in cafes, and at home.”

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Not so sweet Melissa

According to Network World: It was Friday, March 26, 1999 when Melissa first began to bring corporate and government e-mail systems to their knees. By the time all was said and done, hundreds of networks would be temporarily crippled -- including those of Microsoft and the United States Marine Corps -- an untold number of e-mail users would be affected, and an overall damage figure of $80 million bandied about. David L. Smith creator of the Melissa virus, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years, serving 20 months.

tech history 30 years 22
Y2K what?

In what was the non-event of the new century, the overhyped Year 2000 bug never materialized and the world’s computers hummed along. By the way, Nielsen said 2000 was the first year more than half of American households had Internet access.

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Morris the worm

While Morris’ worm irritated plenty of online users in 1988 it had nothing on what was to come. In 2000, the ILoveYou worm, also called VBS/Loveletter and the Love Bug Worm, scoots from Hong Kong around the globe in no time, infecting an estimated 10% of all connected computers. The first Code Red attack exploits buffer-overflow vulnerabilities in unpatched Microsoft Internet Information Servers, infects an estimated 395,000 computers in one day in 2001. In 2010 Stuxnet, gained notoriety when it hit millions of large-scale industrial-control systems in manufacturing and utility firms. And of course Confickr which is estimated to have infected at least 15 million PCs.

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Credit: Reuters
Jail time

MCI, which was the second biggest phone company in the US, filed for bankruptcy June 21, 2002. CEO Bernie Ebbers, the so-called "Telecom Cowboy," later was convicted of fraud and conspiracy and sent to prison for 25 years. Ebbers, who started in business running a chain of motels in Mississippi, at the age of 65, Ebbers reported to the Oakdale Federal Correction Complex in Louisiana to serve a 25-year sentence for his role in WorldCom's $11 billion accounting scandal.

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Credit: Reuters
Facebook

The Facebook was launched in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes and has become another one of those college-projects-turned-huge business success. Social networking as we know it today has its roots in online communities stretching back to Usenet, ARPANET, LISTSERV and BBS, which were arguably the precursors to America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe and Geocities.

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Credit: Reuters/Pawel Kopczynski
Net Neutrality Take 1

The notion that all Internet traffic should be treated equally is at the heart of what is known as Net neutrality. The push for Net neutrality began in 2005, when incumbent carriers successfully lobbied the FCC to repeal common carrier rules that required the incumbents to allow ISPs such as EarthLink to buy space on their broadband networks at discount rates. Court cases have naturally followed with the FCC setting new rules in 2015.

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The big cloud

Amazon launched its Amazon Web Services package on Amazon S3 in March changing how companies store and manage all manner of data.  

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Credit: Reuters/Kimberly White
Apple announces the iPhone

Angry Birds everywhere rejoiced. Will smartphones ever be the same again? No, but the phones announced since the iPhone’s introduction – powered by everything from Google’s Android to Microsoft’s Windows -- will ensure a robust smartphone battle for years to come.

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Nortel dies

In one of the more shocking bankruptcies out of a long line of them, Nortel filed for protection from creditors in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, in order to restructure its debt and financial obligations on Jan. 14, 2009. Once a major player in the enterprise network realm, Nortel’s reign ended with Google, Microsoft and others picking over the scraps of Nortel’s patents.

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Big mobile

Mobile data traffic has more than doubled in each of the past three years, Cisco said in 2010. By 2014, over 3 billion of the world's adult population will be able to electronically exchange money via mobile or Internet technology, added Gartner. The researchers say advances in mobile payment, commerce and banking will let a “significant majority of the world's adult population be able to electronically transact by 2014.” While this part hasn’t entirely proven true, electronic transactions via mobile phones are growing.

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Big Apple

On May 26, 2010 Apple became the world's largest technology company as measured by the total value of its shares. At the trading NASDAQ deadline Apple's market capitalization stood at $223 billion, higher than No. 2 Microsoft, which had a market cap of $219.3 billion. Google at the time had a market cap of market cap of $152 billion.

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IBM Watson wins at Jeopardy!

In a three-game match, IBM’s Watson supercomputer mopped the floor with its human competitors on Jeopardy! In the end Watson took in $77,147 in winnings over the two Jeopardy! champions it played, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. Rutter scored $21,600 and Jennings scored $24,000. Watson also took the $1 million champion prize, as well. While the victory was amazing at the time, Watson continues to develop intelligence for all manner of applications from healthcare to cooking. Watson now has its own business unit inside IBM.

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Credit: Wikipedia
Stuxnet

Some call Stuxnet the first known cyber weapon. Indeed, it is believed to have been created by the U.S. and Israel in order to attack and slow down Iran’s nuclear program (a NY Times article confirmed its usage, saying President Barack Obama ordered the Stuxnet attack). The worm, which has components of espionage and sabotage technology, is estimated to have destroyed up to 1,000 uranium enrichment centrifuges at a nuclear plant near the city of Natanz in Iran. It eventually spread out of control and infected hundreds of thousands of systems worldwide, leading to its discovery in June 2010.

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Credit: Reuters/Beck Diefenbach
Apple IPad introduced

Since its was introduced on April 3, 2010 the diminutive computer has never looked back with Apple selling over 250 million of the devices through January 2015. The device is used in myriad applications and has become ubiquitous in the business and consumer worlds.

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Credit: Reuters/Albert Gea
IBM hits 100

How much more iconic can you get? IBM turned 100 this year. The company has invented everything from UPC codes to airline reservation systems to mainframes and PCs. It has for as long as anyone can remember led the world in patent awards and its portfolio exceeds 40,000 active patents. Its employees have even won five Nobel Prizes and four Turing Awards. And in the tech world, something that successfully lasts for 100 years is something short of a miracle.

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Credit: Reuters/Susan Ragan
Steve Jobs died

Few news items have dominated the tech world like the day that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died. He died on Oct. 5 at the age of 56. Apple's Board of Directors said upon news of his death: "Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

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Raspberry Pi

Definitely a case of the little computer that could. The Raspberry Pi Foundation that puts out the little computer defines it thusly: The Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It is a capable little computer which can be used in electronic projects, and for many of the things that your desktop PC does, like browsing the Internet, playing games and pumping out high-definition video. Its popularity has exploded with somewhere north of 8 million of the little computers sold since its inception.

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The Snowden files

The implications from Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency's massive global surveillance activities are still being felt. Snowden said his decision to leak the NSA’s documents stemmed from his concerns over the government’s power to gather communications in bulk from people living in the U.S.

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Heartbleed

In April of 2014 researchers uncovered a security bug in OpenSLL dubbed Heartbleed, which could let hackers steal tons of information without leaving a trace. Since at the time about two-thirds of all websites use OpenSSL code to help secure encrypted sessions, much panic ensued. In the end there were some break-ins but as Network World wrote: “Heartbleed has been a mammoth inconvenience everywhere as passwords and certificates were swapped out in what became a patching marathon around the globe.”

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Sony hack

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation held North Korea responsible for the attack, which came ahead of the planned release by Sony of a comedy movie about a plot to assassinate the country's leader Kim Jong Un. Sony put an estimate to the damage caused by the massive cyber attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014 -- $35 million.

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Apple watch

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the Apple Watch will have on the industry in the long run. Estimates vary wildly on the success of the watch so far – in the company’s 2015 fourth quarter between 2.5 million and 6 million units were sold, according to analysts polled by Fortune. For comparison consider that in in 2014 about 30 million expensive Swiss watches were sold, according to Statistic Brain Research Institute. IDC forecasted that annual Apple Watch sales would increase to 45.2 million units in 2019. IDC also predicts that by 2019 Apple will have a 51.1% market share, with Android Wear next at 38.8% and smaller platforms making up the difference.

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Net Neutrality

FCC issues Net Neutrality decision: The core issues behind the concept of Net neutrality is how to keep the Internet from becoming the playground for only those who have money, and yet keep it competitive enough for the world to continue to develop applications and business around it. The FCC voted 3-to-2 in 2015 to “create a series of sweeping changes, including three open Internet conduct rules that block broadband providers, both wired and wireless, from blocking or throttling Internet traffic. It remains to be seen how this will all play out. In the image here, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler attends the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington Feb. 26, 2015.

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Scary AI

Within a span of a few weeks, three of the most respected people in the big-thoughts, high-tech community expressed concern about the future development of artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, said "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race…It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever-increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn't compete, and would be superseded."

Meanwhile Elon Musk CEO of electric car maker Tesla Motors, and CEO and co-founder of the commercial space flight company SpaceX said: "I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it's probably that… With artificial intelligence, we are summoning the demon.”

Bill Gates added: “I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don't understand why some people are not concerned. “