eWEEK Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza was "saddled" with reviewing then-nascent Web technology when he started in the Labs. This was a lucky break for him, as he got to start working with Web technology very early in its development. And it's pretty safe to say that the the World Wide Web is one of the most important technologies of the century, let alone the last 25 years.
Sixteen years ago, I started out as the newest analyst at what was then
called PC Week Labs. Most of the important technologies of the day (such as PCs,
office suites, client/server networking and printers) were being covered by the
more senior and experienced analysts. They "saddled" me with a technology that,
while seen as kind of cool, wasn't perceived as important to enterprise IT
The technology? The World Wide Web.
This was obviously a lucky break for me, as I was able to start working with
Web technology very early in its development. I was also lucky enough to work
with then PC Week Labs Analyst Eamonn Sullivan, an early pioneer in building
Websites and developing in HTML. In fact, Eamonn built and launched the
original PC Week Website, one of the first publication sites to exist on the
I think it's pretty safe to say that the World Wide Web is one of the most
important technology developments of the last century-let alone the last 25
years-and one can make a pretty good case for putting it in the company of the
most important technologies of all time. But within the history of the Web,
there are plenty of individual technologies and products that deserve a lot of
recognition on their own.
Probably the biggest is the browser itself. The early days of the
Web were interesting, but things didn't seem that much different from Gopher
sites of the time. However, once the Mosaic browser came out and revealed the
potential of the graphical Web, a wave of new Web development was unleashed.
The Mosaic browser still lives on today-its underlying code formed the basis of
not just the Netscape- and Mozilla-based browsers, but also Internet Explorer.
Another important technology that can be traced to Netscape is SSL.
Everyone knew that the Web had game-changing potential. However, businesses
weren't going to be interested until they could use the nascent platform to
make money. SSL-or Secure Sockets Layer-made
it possible to build reasonably secure connections that let users and
businesses buy and sell on the Web. Everything from Amazon and eBay to
corporate use of Webmail would be impossible without SSL.
That said, while early Websites were great at displaying text and images,
they were pretty stupid when it came to data and handling structure. The
technology that helped to change all of that was XML.
XML brought some common sense and structure to the Web and
made possible pretty much every new change in Web technology since. While some
may think that HTML is still the lingua franca of the Web, in reality nearly
every protocol, script and connection layer in use on the Web today makes use
One of the most interesting and refreshing things about the Web is the way
that many of the most significant new products and technologies come seemingly
from nowhere-usually created by small teams of developers and enthusiasts and
not major businesses. This has been true of everything from Google and Yahoo to
Facebook and Twitter.
Another example of this was the rise of AJAX
and the GUI-based Web interfaces of the last several years. These technologies
were basically created by developers who were able to take existing development
and scripting technologies and use them to create graphically intense
browser-based interfaces rivaling those of desktop applications.
This has led to an explosion in Web-based applications and services that
have made it possible to carry out nearly any business or personal task with
nothing more than a browser installed on your system. This will likely continue
to the point in the near future where the Web is the operating system, not
whatever runs on the hardware you use to access the Web.
But probably the most important Web innovation is the one thing that hasn't
changed: It is still possible for anyone--using free and inexpensive tools and
services-to put a new application or service on the Web and change the world.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.