Today is the first day of the third decade of the 21st century. For some, it’s just another year, but for others it seems almost impossible that we’ve reached this point without floating cars and manned missions to Jupiter. Fifty years ago, some of the technology that is used in the course of doing business was simply fiction or conjecture. We thought it would be neat to take a look at some of the technological changes made since 1970.
Using our time machine, we want to travel through time to identify some technologies that have been invented in the past 50 years. The microchip (microprocessor) was invented in 1959, so that doesn’t quite fit the criteria of our list. Multi-location networking was also a thing as the ARPANET had just rolled out the year before. These technologies were the predecessors for some of the best tech we’ve seen developed over the past 50 years.
We start in the 1970s...
Like most of society, the technology world was changing rapidly in the early 1970s. In quick succession, computing went from something that businesses and individuals only thought of in passing to a revolution that could change the world. New technologies that we would laugh at today were just reaching the market. Here is a brief list of some of the technologies that debuted in the 1970s:
- Automated Teller Machine (ATM) - Introduced automated banking.
- Intel 1103 memory chip - It was the first memory chip produced by Intel that introduced their dynamic random-access memory (DRAM).
- Intel 4004 microprocessor - Intel also released the very first microprocessor.
- Email - The first emails were introduced and sent over the ARPANET.
- Xerox Laser Printer - The Xerox 9700, the first laser printer was developed.
- SuperPaint - The first computer used for digital imaging manipulation was introduced.
- Mobile Networking - ARPA developed the first wireless network out of a van in San Francisco and tested out early versions of VoIP.
- The First Cell Phone - Motorola introduced the cell phone in 1973.
- Groundwork for the Internet - European researchers created “networks of networks” in a process called internetworking.
- Local Area Networks (LAN) - Using ethernet, Xerox created the first commercial LAN. IBM and Datapoint also introduced solutions.
- First Mass Storage - IBM introduces their 3850 mass storage system. It stored up to 236 GB of data.
- Business Networks Expand - Packet-switched business networks like CompuServe, Telenet, and Tymnet are introduced, connecting business terminals to servers.
- PC Wars - Apple’s first commercial personal computer, the Apple II was released in 1977 as were the Commodore PET, and the Tandy/Radio Shack PC called the TRS-80.
- LaserDisc - The forerunner to the CD, DVD, and Blu-Ray disk, the LaserDisk was expensive, but offered superior audio and visual quality than the tape-based systems of the time.
- WordStar - One of the most popular word processors of the early PC age.
- Introduction of Online Services - Services such as MicroNet (also known as CompuServe Information Service) and The Source started what could be described as a precursor to the Internet. These services provided early versions of what you would find with AOL and Prodigy in the early 90s.
- Business PCs - VisiCalc, a software that automated the recalculation of spreadsheets effectively turned the growing PC market into a business PC market overnight.
- The First Malware - In 1979 the first Internet worm was created as a way to search for idle processors on the ARPANET.
After the immense amount of technological invention in the 1970s, innovation was the name of the game going forward. In the 1980s, many of the systems that were lauded as revolutionary got a new look, and many of the technologies expanded, especially for businesses. Here are some of the computing technologies that were introduced--or improved upon--in the 1980s:
- 3½-inch Floppy Disk Drive - There was a 5½-inch disk drive, there was a 3-inch, 3¼-inch, and the 3.9-inch floppy drive, but Sony developed the 3½-inch drive that Hewlett-Packard started putting in their PCs. It quickly grew to become the standard.
- Hard Disk Drive for Microcomputers - Seagate Technology’s ST506 was the first hard disk drive created for microcomputers. The drive held 5 MB of data, five times your average floppy disk.
- Business Workstations - Both Apollo and Sun Microsystems created hardware that would run resource-intensive graphics programs used for engineering and scientific research.
- MS-DOS - Microsoft Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS, was released for IBM computers.
- Lotus 1-2-3 - The first software suite that offered a word processor, spreadsheet program, and a database. It helped businesses get the tools they needed in one single software suite.
- Apple Lisa - The first personal computer that came with a functioning graphical user interface (GUI).
- Bernoulli Box - The Bernoulli Box was the first hard drive that was removable. Disks ranged from 5MB to 230MB.
- CD-ROM - The CD was already catching on in the mid-1980s when the CD-ROM, a construct that could store 550MB of data caught on and was the standard for years to come.
- Apple Macintosh - Apple’s Macintosh was the first mainstream mouse-driven computer, that came equipped with several applications that set the standard for personal computing of the time including MacWrite (first to use WYSIWYG) and MacPaint, which was the first mouse-based drawing program.
- Flash Memory - Flash memory, which can be quickly erased and written over several times was invented in a Toshiba lab.
- PC Limited - Michael Dell dropped out of school to focus on a business where he built IBM-compatible computers from stock components. It soon became one of the most successful computer retailers in the world.
- The Internet - U.S. Internet protocols are improved by the formation of NSFNET, the last step in what would become the Internet.
- GSM Standard - Setting a standard for mobile networks, and introducing text messaging, the mobile revolution started in the late 1980s in Europe.
- Computer Fraud and Abuse Act - The result from Robert T. Morris sent a nondestructive worm through the new Internet causing major damage. He was tried and convicted and had to serve community service for hacking the Internet.
- Macintosh Portable - It may not have sold well or been a success by any measure, but it did start computer manufacturers in their quest to build portable computers; something most users today completely appreciate.
The 1990s saw a complete shift in the way that people used technology. Businesses, schools, and home users increased their use of computing technology and the growth of the Internet, which brought with it extreme prosperity followed by a crash that threatened the economies of some of the most technologically-savvy countries in the world. Here is a look at some of the technologies introduced in the 1990s.
- High Performance Computing and Communication Act - The U.S. Congress created the National Information Infrastructure that spent nearly a billion dollars on various networking initiatives that were aimed at improving commercial and individual access to the Internet.
- NSF Lifts Internet Restrictions - Soon after the National Science Foundation (NSF), the entity that oversaw the modern Internet, removed its restrictions, giving businesses and individuals access to Internet-based materials. At this time the Internet service provider (ISP) is introduced as well.
- JPEG - The JPEG compression standard for images was introduced.
- Solid State Drive - The first commercially available solid-state drive was introduced by SunDisk (today SanDisk).
- Personal Data Assistant - Before there was Siri and the Google Assistant, there were devices that aimed to help people keep organized. Apple’s Newton and Palm’s Pilot are two examples of mobile computing platforms aimed to help users.
- Intel Releases Pentium - Pentium was the fifth generation of the “x86” line of microprocessors. The new processors made programs run faster as multi-instructional computing became more necessary.
- Microsoft Windows NT - It was the first 32-bit version of Windows, making it a powerful option for IBM and IBM-compatible machines.
- Mosaic - The first true Internet browser, it had provided users a new level of access to Internet resources.
- The First Online Ads - As people started to join the “world wide web” en masse, online ads were a rare occurrence. As you know, today, the Internet is one large billboard.
- CompactFlash - SanDisk introduced flash disks which were then incorporated into many consumer and professional electronic devices.
- Zip Disk - Understanding the need for more data storage, Iomega introduced the Zip Disk that provided users the ability to get 100MB of storage on a disk not much bigger than the standard 3.5-inch disks that had become standard. Over time Zip drives could store up to 2GB before the technology became antiquated.
- Browser wars - Half of Mosaic's team broke off and started Netscape, while Microsoft used the source code of the Mosaic browser to create their Internet Explorer browser. The two browsers went head-to-head. Netscape thrived for a short time, but since IE was shipped with every Windows OS, it was hard for them to compete. Today, Microsoft has scrapped IE and features the Edge browser, while Netscape failed and became the basis for Mozilla’s Firefox browser that is still popular today.
- The ThinkPad 701C - Manufacturers had been trying to make a laptop computer for several years, but the ThinkPad 701 gave users a full desktop experience in a portable machine.
- Online Services - AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe had been the major players for much of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, giving users a “walled garden” experience of the web, but with the development of Microsoft Network (MSN) it opened up the web much more to the end user.
- Windows 95 - The first modern OS that focused on an Internet-connected experience. It also introduced the concept of plug and play, a great innovation for allowing peripherals to connect without having to initiate setup from a driver disk.
- CD-RW - An optical disk used for data storage and could be written and written over several hundred times; a feature not many people actually took advantage of.
- Visual Studio - Programming new software became big business and essential to the sustainability of new web-based platforms. Visual Studio 97 helped push this along.
- Digital Millennium Copyright Act - A law passed by the U.S. congress that began to crack down on the sharing of copyrighted intellectual property over the Internet.
- Wi-Fi - The establishment of Wi-Fi expanded the ability for computers to access networks and the Internet without wires.
As the millennium approached there were fears that the software developed wouldn’t work when the calendar changed. Millions of dollars were spent ensuring the world wouldn’t stop. After Y2K (as it was called), the 2000s would produce some of the most amazing technology the world had ever seen; and, would change the way people look at the world, forever. Let’s take a look at the list:
- The Camera Phone - Japanese manufacturer SoftBank introduced the first cellular phone with a built-in camera.
- USB Flash Drive - The USB flash drive, jump drive, or memory stick was just a way for people to take data on the go, but it has turned out to be the basis of many other technologies as well.
- BitTorrent - A peer-to-peer file sharing service that allows users to upload and download files, typically media. It has seen controversy as lawyers of the music and movie industry have claimed that BitTorrent facilitates the theft of their clients’ intellectual property.
- iTunes - iTunes introduced the sale of new music through a digital medium. Unlike the peer-to-peer sharing, iTunes was set up as a store for music.
- Myspace - Myspace might not have been the first or the largest social network, but it was the most important in the early 2000s. Facebook soon entered the market and is now one of the world’s most important and divisive companies.
- Google - Google’s IPO was a seminal moment for the Internet as we know it. Already a popular search engine, Google cracked the code for how to monetize search results online. Today, it is one of the largest, and most lucrative companies in all of tech.
- AWS Cloud Services - The retail giant Amazon launched its Amazon Web Services providing companies the computing hardware they need in the cloud. Services like Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure followed.
- Netflix - A streaming movie service that has changed the way people look at media.
- Apple iPhone - In what was one of the most important technology inventions in decades, Apple released the iPhone, which may have not been the first smartphone, but it sure seems like it was.
- Bitcoin - The first cryptocurrency was the result of a blockchain created by a person (or people) that goes/go by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. Releasing the source code as open-source software has resulted in thousands of other cryptocurrencies, as well as many innovations using the blockchain ledger technology.
- BDR - Before backup and disaster recovery, there was mostly tape. When the cloud-based network-attached storage solutions came to be, businesses had a better solution to protect their data.
The more that technology was innovated upon, the less was going into developing new technology. After the launch of the iPhone, there was a definite trend in the way that people began to look at their tech. If it wasn’t mobile or simple to use, it had no function. Let’s take a look at how those ideas came to pass in the 2010s:
- IBM’s Watson - The world was introduced to Watson when the AI defeated some of the very best humans at Jeopardy! Unfortunately, that is the end of lots of people’s exposure to Watson. Watson has subsequently been used in several fields to improve efficiency, education, cooperation and more.
- Apple iPad - Just as they did with the iPhone, a few years later Apple introduced the iPad. The tablet computer that was completely touchscreen and used the same App store found on the iPhone was the beginning of one of the largest consumer electronics booms since the advent of the TV.
- Adobe Creative Cloud - Just as Amazon Web Services and Azure provide virtual hardware services, Software as a Service (SaaS) started to expand rapidly at the beginning of the last decade. One title (of the many) was Adobe Creative Cloud, which gives users access to all the creative Adobe software through a monthly subscription service.
- Arab Spring Protests - For the first time in human history, social media became the center of a series of organized protests that resulted in regime change, election transparency, and more.
- Spotify - A music streaming service competes directly with other streaming services like Google Play Music, iTunes, and more. This Netflix-style model is proving to be a huge selling point for users.
- The Internet of Things - Smart devices started popping up quickly and with exponential growth now find themselves almost everywhere.
- Virtual Assistants - Using AI, the development of Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Google Assistant have started integrating technology into moment-to-moment situations.
- Ransomware - A devastating strain of malware that locks down a user’s files and demands a ransom payment. It has affected millions of users, thousands of businesses, and some municipalities.
- Net Neutrality and Its Repeal - Trying to find an equitable arrangement on who controls the Internet has been nothing but contentious over the past decade. As it stands today the ISPs hold the power, but for much of the past decade the FCC did. Stay tuned.
Technology has come a long way in the past 50 years, and it will be interesting to see where it goes in the next 50. Is there anything we missed? If so, share it with us in the comments section below. Happy New Year!