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Important Tech 1

Entry 1618, on 2014-01-17 at 21:59:30 (Rating 2, Computers)

Well-known Wall Street Journal technology writer, Walt Mossburg, recently retired and wrote his final article, and he appropriately chose the 12 most important technology products of the last 20 years as the subject. Of course I am interested in tech and especially "consumer gadgets" so I thought I should comment. Here's the list...

1. The Apple Newton MessagePad from 1993.

I was one of the few owners of a MessagePad (in fact I had 2 plus one of it's close cousin, the eMate, all of which I still have and which still worked last time I checked). The Newton was a product ahead of its time, in fact many people joked it came to Apple from the future through a time warp!

The problem was that it was too ahead of its time. The original device was too slow and the handwriting recognition (which it used for text input) was too unreliable. By the time the newest models were available which fixed these issues it had already apparently become unsuccessful and Steve Jobs killed the project when he returned to Apple.

However the Newton was an amazing device in terms of both its hardware and operating system (which was years ahead of anything else in terms of its object oriented nature) and it really deserves recognition as a great product.

2. The Netscape Navigator web browser from 1995.

Back in the day, in the early days of the internet (yes, I was there) Navigator was the preferred browser. Unfortunately it was destroyed by Microsoft's Internet Explorer not necessarily because IE was better (although it was a fairly good product at the time) but because Microsoft bundled their browser with new PCs and people usually didn't bother to change from the default.

There is no doubt that Navigator was the first stable browser with a good set of features, such as Javascript which was originally created by Netscape. Considering how important the web is today that must make it an important product in the recent history of computer tech.

3. Windows 95 from 1995.

Looking back Windows 95 was a terrible product but what was there to compare it to at the time? MSDOS, Windows 3 or Mac OS 7.5 were the other options. Clearly the Mac OS was a better system but it also suffered from unexplained and frequent crashes and various other issues at the time, so Windows shouldn't be judged too harshly.

And Windows 95 was the first realistic effort at getting the PC platform onto a modern, graphical interface like the Mac had been using for over 10 years. Looking at the dominance of Windows today (in terms of use if not innovation and usability) clearly Windows 95 was a very important product. Yeah, those are about all the positive things I can say about a Microsoft product so I'll stop now!

4. The Palm Pilot from 1997.

The Palm Pilot was so much less a technological powerhouse than the earlier handheld PDA, the Newton, but perhaps because it was so much more modest it was more successful. It was the first successful PDA (personal digital assistant) which is a product category which has now been taken over by smart phones and tablets, but it did show that people wanted devices like this and that the failure of the Newton wasn't an indication that this type of device was unwanted.

5. Google Search from 1998.

It is almost impossible to imagine what life would be like without the internet. And the most successful service of the internet is the world wide web, and surely its success is largely due to how things can be found so quickly and easily thanks mainly to Google. Sure, there have been and still are other search engines out there but Google Search is by far the most successful, both in terms of how many people use it and how good it is.

One thing I appreciate about this service is how simple it is on the surface. The user types something and presses a button, and then all the magic happens behind the scenes usually resulting in the required information coming up near the top of the results in under a second.

6. The iPod from 2001.

The iPod wasn't the first MP3 player but it was the first well-designed, easy to use device. It became important for two reasons: first, it started the digital music revolution after earlier devices had limited success, and second it established Apple as a company which didn't just do computers and that ultimately lead to the iTunes store, iPhone, and other products.

Well I'm half way through the list now and this blog entry is already long enough. I'll do the second half (2004-2010) in a future blog entry.

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