25 tech touchstones of the past 25 years

Narrowing down the network industry's top events from the past 25 years is a little like picking your all-time baseball or football moments – something will always get left out and the second-guessers will come out of the woodwork. So what we have here is what for the moment I think are the Top 25 events that had the most influence on, or will have the most impact in the future of the industry. No you won't find mention of OSI in here or the changing of CEOs at Microsoft or even the founding of Apple, just to name a few big events, but you will find TCP/IP, Windows, the iPhone and a host of other key happenings that have shaped the past 25 years.

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IBM turns 100 this year. The company has invented everything from UPC codes to airline reservation systems to mainframes and PCs.  It has for the past 17 years led the world in patent awards and its portfolio exceeds 40,000 active patents.  In 2010, IBM was ranked the 20th largest firm in the U.S. by Fortune and the 33rd largest globally by Forbes . Its employees have even won five Nobel Prizes and four Turing Awards. Most recently its Watson supercomputer wowed the world with its distinctly human ability to answer questions posed in natural language by winning the Jeopardy! game show.


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.


In one of the more shocking bankruptcies out of a long line of them during this time-period, 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, but by 2011, others such as Google and Microsoft are picking over the scraps of what remains: Nortel's patents.

Also read: 5 innovative tech companies that got it wrong in the end


By 2009, Windows had approximately 91% of client  market share and in 2010 Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said there were more than 4 million apps available for the Windows platform. Not bad for an MS-DOS add-on introduced in 1984.


Apple announces iPhone . Angry Birds everywhere rejoice. Will smartphones ever be the same again? No but the giant variety of competitive phones announced since the iPhone's introduction – everything from Google's Android , to the Windows Phone 7 will ensure a robust smartphone battle for years to come. By the way, Gartner research predicts that by 2014, 90% of the world will have some sort of mobile device and 6.5 billion mobile connections.

net neutrality


The notion that all Internet traffic should be treated equally is at the heart of what known as net neutrality . The concept maybe simple but the argument the implementation of such concepts has proven to be anything but. 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. The battle over net neutrality has been waged for years with consumer groups and some Internet companies in favor and carriers almost universally opposed. In 2010 the FCC  tried to address the argument with an order that said fixed broadband services should be neutral but left a lot of wiggle room for larger carriers. Court cases have naturally followed.

Social networking


Social networking as we know it today has its roots in a long online tradition of using online communities to impart or search for information. Systems such as Usenet, ARPANET, LISTSERV and BBS were arguably the precursors to America Online, Prodigy, CompuServe, Geocities and ultimately the current king, 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. From Gartner: By 2012, Facebook will become the hub for social network integration and Web socialization. As Facebook continues to grow and outnumber other social networks, this interoperability will become critical to the success and survival of other social networks.

bernie ebbers


WorldCom, which was the second biggest phone company in the U.S., 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.



The overhyped Year 2000 bug never materialized and the world's computers hummed along. By the way, Nielsen said that this was the first year when over half of American households had Internet access.



While Morris' worm irritated plenty of online users it has 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 Conficker which is estimated to have infected at least 15 million PCs.

mirosoft vs doj


On May 18, 1998 the U.S Department of Justice began the trial of industry icon Microsoft in an antitrust case that would not be resolved until 2001. Microsoft was found to have abused its monopoly power in the PC operating system market by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who at times was seen nodding off during the lengthy and mostly dry trial, Network World wrote at the time. Jackson too had harsh words for Microsoft execs who he said were “inaccurate, misleading and evasive.” In the end efforts to split the company in two gave way to Microsoft agreeing to share APIs with third-party companies and to appoint a compliance oversight committee.

General Magic


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 were to offer that let users access e-mail, address books, calendars and access news and stock information from a cell phone or Web browser. General Magic also built early versions of the PDA, with its own "Magic Cap" operating system, signed a licensing deal with Microsoft and helped build the OnStar service still used today in General Motors cars. General Magic veteran Tony Fadell would go on to become senior vice president of Apple's iPod division, while Andy Rubin, who also worked for General Magic, went on to create Google's Android.



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 running on Linux, Google, 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 through its Android system to name few things. The company has also been a hiring machine, saying it will add 6,000 new employees in 2011 to add to its total of 24,400. The company still generates most of its revenue though online advertising and its stock is trading at close to $600 per share as of April 1. Google's initial public offering (IPO) went for $85 a share Aug. 19, 2004.


After years of lobbying and posturing, Congress finally rewrote the 62-year-old law that has controlled - some say hamstrung - the network industry, wrote Network World at the time. The The Telecommunications Act of 1996  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,



The advent of 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. In-Stat estimates the total number of mobile VoIP users in particular will hit  288 million by the end of 2013. Infonetics says the combined business and residential/small office home office VoIP services market will grow to $74.5 billion in 2015 and that managed IP PBX business VoIP service revenue should more than double from 2010 to 2015

sna tcp/ip


The long, slow and at times, colorful battle between TCP/IP backers and SNA stalwarts was one of the more acrimonious periods of time 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.

SNA and OSI vs. TCP/IP



What we know is e-commerce certainly has a pedigree that includes systems invented in the 1970s like EDI. But 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 companies sprung up, including Pizza Hut, which was one of the pioneers of online storefronts. In 1995 Amazon expanded its online shopping, and in 1996 eBay popped up. Forrester says online retail business will hit about $250 billion by 2014.

Marc Andreessen


Marc Andreessen co-founded Netscape with Jim Clark in 1994 to market Andreessen's creation, the Netscape Navigator web browser. Overnight Andreesen 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.

Linus Torvalds


At the height of the popularity of the Unix operating system an interloper came along in 1991 when an open source variant known as Linux, or the Linux kernel, came along courtesy of Finnish student, Linus Torvalds . The company most closely linked to Linux's success in Red hat which was founded in 1993.  While it would take years of convincing, the operating system has gone mainstream with Dell, IBM, HP, Oracle and making significant contributions to its continued development.  IDC says the Linux support market will hit $1.2 billion by 2013.



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.  Current CEO John Chambers took over in 1995. Cisco has more than 70,000 employees and annual revenue of $40 billion and is considered the bellwether of the network world. The company has also bought 144 other companies since 1993. Also read: Cisco's mass of acquisitions spawned growth, competition.

Tim berners-lee


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 history. There are now almost 130 million registered domain names.

Robert Morris


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 where he is today.

pc war


The war of the PC worlds. In 1986, Compaq beat IBM to the market the first with an Intel 80386 chip, giving it a huge leg up in the growing PC realm (in 1986 there were reportedly 30 million personal computers in the U.S.). IBM had other ideas though and vowing to fight what it classified as clones to its original PC, rolled out the basic proprietary PS/2 a year later. The battle was on and would last seven years as the PS/2 would disappear in 1994. Gartner notes that by 2013 there will be close to 2 billion PCs in use worldwide.

10base-t ethernet


IBM had  a hit with its Token-Ring LAN technology but it was short lived. Once 10Base-T Ethernet, an inexpensive, 10Mbps transmission technology than 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.



Network World's prototype issue comes 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 could link any terminal to any type of computer. Network World got into the online world with Network World Fusion in 1995.

Also read:

Network World's 25th anniversary package

The networked world

25 ways IT will morph in the next 25 years

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