• United States
Director, Network World Test Alliance

20 network-changing products in 20 years

Mar 27, 20067 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsLinuxWi-Fi

Original list of 50 culled to offer our best choices.

Hindsight is indeed 20/20. Even though we didn’t build the products that have changed the way networks do business in the last 20 years, our birds’-eye view of those developments gives us a license to pinpoint which 20 products have had the most impact on the network industry.

When we solicited input from our Network World Lab Alliance members about which products should be noted, we amassed a list of more than 50 wares that helped bring us increased infrastructure speed, access to the brave new world of the Internet and applications beyond our wildest dreams. In whittling the list down to a mere 20, we may have missed products or technologies that you deem worthy. Join our online forum and argue the merits of your own top 20).

Now, let’s move on to our list of products and technologies and their companies, listed in chronological order, starting with the earliest:


Network General


While very expensive (in the $60,000-plus range), this product, in its original Compaq II portable incarnation, was the first easy-to-use network diagnostic tool. The company then shipped Sniffer Distributed in 1991 and has since produced versions that peer into Gigabit Ethernet, wireless networks and even into the applications riding over them.


Lotus (now IBM)


As the first true commercial workgroup application, more than 35,000 copies of Lotus Notes 1.0 were sold during the first year it was on the market. The system requirements were either DOS 3.1 or OS/2 on the client and either DOS 3.1, 4.0 or OS/2 on the server.


Software Tool & Die


The World is reputed to be the oldest commercial ISP. This outfit was founded in Brookline, Mass., by current CEO Barry Shein to give interested public parties access to Usenet News.



This was the version of NetWare that improved network-operating system administration for large numbers of client machines and significantly speeded NetWare adoption. It was also the version for which developers, via Network Loadable Modules, could tie into the network other services, such as anti-virus software and backup, database and Web servers. With NetWare 4.x, Novell added its Novell Directory Services to the base product in 1993 and then acknowledged the importance of the Internet when it picked up support as its primary network protocol in 1998, with the rollout of NetWare 5.x.

WAVELAN family of wireless LAN products

AT&T Network Systems (later became Lucent)


Based on a draft standard that would later become IEEE 802.11, this first family of WLAN products comprised the WaveLAN PCMCIA network cards for notebook and portable computers; WaveLAN/ISA software for AT-bus desktop computers; WavePOINT wire-to-wire access point; WaveAROUND roaming software; WaveMONITOR site-installation survey program; and WaveMODEM system to integrate WaveLAN technology into OEM products. Together they allowed folks to connect any machine anywhere and help propel wireless networking to the level of importance that the wired side already held. Lucent shipped a fully 802.11-compliant suite of WaveLAN products in April 1998.

10BASE-T hubs



Synoptics’ early work on 10Base-T devices freed the network industry from coax cable, transceivers and taps. It allowed networking to occur at decent speeds over common twisted-pair wiring. Synoptics went on to merge with Wellfleet to form Bay Networks, which was purchased by Nortel in 1998. Today, the overwhelming majority of networking to client PCs is done over further versions of 10Base-T, including 100Base-TX (two-pair 100Mbps Ethernet) and 1000Base-T versions (gigabit over twisted pairs).


open source


As the first completely open source operating system, it became the most dominant platform for innovative network products since Linus Torvalds released Version 0.02 of the Linux kernel. It might not be as pervasive on the desktop or server installation as people were expecting it to be by now, but it set the stage for Darwin/OS X, which rejuvenated Apple as another challenge to Microsoft’s Windows-everywhere charge.




Kalpana rolled out the first multiport Ethernet switch and went on to invent EtherChannel, a technology that provides additional interswitch bandwidth by running several links in parallel. Cisco in a 1994 acquisition scooped up Kalpana and it’s technologies which then became the roots of the existing Catalyst line.


Netscape and the Spyglass


These browsers were the first commercial GUIs and opened the Internet to users.


Check Point1994

Check Point’s work in manageable, packet-filtering firewalls was groundbreaking. Furthermore, Check Point built partnerships with reliable hardware manufacturers like Nokia, which gave enterprise customers the confidence to buy and install Check Point firewalls throughout their networks.




As the first client OS to natively support Winsock (short for Windows Sockets), a spec that defines how Windows machines should gain access to network services, especially via TCP/IP, it killed about a dozen third-party TCP/IP stack suppliers and started millions down the road toward Internet connectivity.

APACHE Web server

open source


Apache was the first free Web server available and is currently deployed everywhere across the Internet serving content of all shapes and sizes.

CISCO 2500 routers


This series of IP routers is one of the best-selling products of all time because it hit the right combination of size, ease of use and price. This all-in-one router changed how most enterprises build networks.

STARTAC cell phone


With its revolutionary clamshell design, Motorola made the cell phone something you could put in your pocket or clip to your belt so that you (and your workers) could always be available.

M40 router

Juniper Networks1998

In the previous decade Cisco, with its early ISG routers, had successfully beaten bigger network competitors, including 3Com, Proteon, Wellfleet and IBM’s Networking Hardware Division. Numerous ISPs and large enterprises, however, saw Juniper as a welcome second source for routers.


SendMail switch illustrationSendMail


Sendmail was key to the e-mail revolution because it was how everyone got up and running with e-mail communications over the Internet. Eric Allman wrote the original version of this open source mail-transfer agent while he was at the University of California at Berkeley in 1979. He stopped development on it in 1982, however, and didn’t revisit it until 1990. In 1998 he founded SendMail to sell the software’s first commercial version, the SendMail switch.

GOOGLE Internet search engine


This search engine began as a research project by two Stanford University Ph.D. students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. It differed from previous search engines because it analyzed the links among Web sites to determine an individual site’s importance. The theory is that Web pages having the most links from other highly relevant pages must be the most important pages associated with a search. Judging by Google’s stock price and its ever-growing reach across this industry, the theory seems to have proven itself.




In a number of legal and technological ways, Napster was the nuclear bomb that hit the network industry. Once peer-to-peer file sharing was highlighted by this music-sharing application, the genie was out of the bottle.




It’s debatable which version of server-side Windows changed networking landscape the most, but we felt it necessary to include Windows 2000 Server because it was a performance improvement over Microsoft’s first-ever server operating system – Windows NT 3.51 – and it contained the Active Directory Service. Windows 2000 Server also has the dubious honor of being the target of 2001’s Code Red worm, which homed in on the indexing services of Windows 2000 IIS.




This proprietary peer-to-peer telephony application provided the first real quality VoIP product (did we mention it’s free here?) that has built a cult following and spurred industry questions about why corporations can’t move to convergence more quickly. Skype picked up both business clout and deep pockets when eBay bought the company in the fall of 2005

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