25 Technologies That Changed the Decade
eWEEK Labs names the products, applications and technologies of the last decade that have changed the way we work, play and live.
Following are our picks for the top 25, in alphabetical order.
1. 3G broadband
Sure, it's not as good as it could be. And the competing mix of standards—as in UMTS/EvDO (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System/Evolution Data Optimized)—creates compatibility problems. But it wasn't that long ago that one could get Internet access only by finding a Wi-Fi hot spot or plugging in an Ethernet cable. With 3G broadband, smartphones, netbooks, laptops and even mobile offices can get pretty good Internet access pretty much anywhere.
The first generation of wireless networking technologies were cool. And if you were just accessing Internet content, they seemed plenty fast. But you could forget about sending large files to other systems on the same wireless network. 802.11g made wireless usable for most networking tasks and helped boost the spread of Wi-Fi to offices, homes, parks and hotels around the world.
It seemed simple at first—just a set of scripts and standards technologies that were already around for building Web applications. But the mix of technologies that make up AJAX launched a Web revolution, making it possible to build attractive and interactive Web-based GUIs that didn't require extra plug-ins or extensions and that worked well in most modern Web browsers.
4. Amazon EC2
Probably the first real iteration of a cloud-computing platform, Amazon.com's Elastic Compute Cloud is still one of the most popular. Making it simple for anyone to throw a virtual server machine onto Amazon.com's powerful server platform, EC2 changed what it meant to own a server or even run a business: A large number of new businesses don't even own server hardware—their entire operations run on EC2.
At the beginning of the decade, general-purpose 64-bit computing wasn't looking promising. Intel's Itanium architecture was proving difficult to implement and was generally seen as a disappointment. Instead of taking Intel's rewrite approach, Advanced Micro Devices built its 64-bit platform on existing processor technology, and pushed 64-bit processors into the mainstream.
You have to admit that if a product gets compared with a highly addictive drug, it must be a huge success. The CrackBerry, er, BlackBerry quickly became a must-have mobile device, and it's still pretty much the mobile device of choice for business users. By making it easy to stay connected anywhere, the BlackBerry certainly boosted productivity (and probably ruined more than a few vacations).
7. Blade servers
Blade servers have become so commonplace that it's easy to forget how stunning it was to see an entire server room of systems reduced to a single rack.
It can be easy to think of Bluetooth as a failure, especially if one looks at its early promises. But then consider all of the wires and cables you aren't using anymore, and you come to appreciate the accomplishments of Bluetooth.
Just a few years ago, the future of the Web and the browser looked bleak. Internet Explorer dominated the market, and Microsoft wasn't interested in browser innovation. But when Mozilla released Firefox, we finally got real browser choice and innovation. Firefox reignited the browser wars, and today we have more competition and choice in browsers than ever before.
10. Gmail/Google Apps
Sure, Web-based mail and other applications existed before Gmail and Google Apps. But none offered the features, convenience and reliability that Google did. Now, entire businesses are running using only Google's Web-based e-mail and productivity applications.
It was called the Jesus Phone. And while that moniker was definitely hyperbolic, it's not hype to say that Apple's iPhone completely changed the smartphone market. And many of these changes probably wouldn't have come about if the iPod hadn't set the stage for the iPhone's usability and design.
12. Mac OS X
While the first iMac got lots of attention, it wasn't until Apple totally revamped its core operating system that the Mac revolution really took off. Mac OS X was a full rewrite built on a Unix core, and since its release has pretty much set the bar for operating system usability and innovation.
13. Multicore processors
People who have moved from a PC based on a single-core processor to one based on a multicore processor are typically blown away. There in your system—which most likely cost less than $1,000—is a processor that would smoke the most powerful servers and workstations of the 1990s.
Vendors have pushed microlaptops on us before, but these systems have all failed due to being underpowered and overpriced. The current wave of netbooks fixes those problems, achieving small size along with decent capabilities and low prices. While hardware vendors may hate them, netbooks continue to be popular with consumers.
Sure, if the bar for success is supplanting Microsoft Office, then Openoffice.org has been a failure. But if overall impact is considered, Openoffice.org has definitely been influential, especially when it comes to opening up document formats.
Power over Ethernet is still a relatively new technology, and many companies haven't implemented it yet. But companies that have moved to POE have seen major benefits, especially in the ability to run devices such as VOIP (voice over IP) phones, access points and other appliances without the need for a wall wart to provide power.
17. Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Coming into the decade, Linux was already a hot commodity, but it wasn't until Red Hat launched the buttoned-down and subscription-priced Enterprise variant of its Linux distribution that Linux was truly ready—both in terms of road map stability and of business model—to truly storm the enterprise.
Rising from the ashes of the failed ASP (application service provider) market of the late 1990s, Salesforce.com proved that companies would run vital enterprise business applications—even CRM and sales force automation—over the Web.
19. Social networks
They may seem like a big waste of time, but social networks have had a significant effect on the way people and businesses connect and communicate.
20. Solaris 10
During the latter half of '00s, Sun Microsystems' Solaris 10 sat at the leading edge of operating system technologies, with unique capabilities that include Containers virtualization, Dtrace system instrumentation and the ZFS file system. Solaris 10 also helped put a stamp of inevitability on the x86-64 architecture and on the open-source-as-a-platform licensing strategy.
Looking at it today, the Treo may seem like just another smartphone. But the early Treo set the stage for and was very influential in the development of modern smartphones. Any phone today that isn't an iPhone or a new phone directly influenced by the iPhone owes a huge debt to the Treo (and even the iPhone is influenced by the Treo).
Twitter is a waste of time. We'll just post that on our Facebook and corporate collaboration system status updates. Hmm. Maybe Twitter has been massively influential and changed the way we all communicate.
Virtualization has been around for more than 10 years, but it was in the last decade that it really took off. And, to a large degree, the impetus for this drive to virtualize was VMware technology. Offering everything from simple-to-use products that let consumers run virtual machines to the most robust enterprise-class virtualization platforms, VMware has made it possible to run whole farms of servers with very little hardware involved.
24. VOIP, Skype, SIP
Like virtualization, VOIP technology has been around for more than 10 years. However, it's only in the last 10 years that the technology has reached a real state of usability. Skype helped show consumers how cheap and easy voice calls can be from a PC, while SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) signaling eased standards-based interoperability among vendors, opening the door for the integration of many different kinds of products into the communications mix.
25. Windows XP
With all of the recent hype about Windows 7—and the bad experiences that nearly every user has had at one time or another with Windows XP—it might seem strange to see Windows Vista's predecessor on any top tech list. But XP is certainly the most dominant operating system of the decade. And when Vista proved to be a disappointment, a majority of users and businesses were happy to stick with XP (and many still are).