As we mark the 25th birthday of the IBM PC, eWeek Labs considered assembling a Top 10 list of the most influential products that iconic machine ushered in. We couldnt do it: A list that short omitted far too many innovations with far too great an impact to be ignored.
Having agreed that 25 products for 25 years provided a pleasing symmetry, we then found ourselves in a debate that sounded like a dictionary editor brawling with a technology historian. What was an “influential” product? Did it need to be the first of its kind, or the first implementation that others found worth imitating?
In full knowledge that what we omit will spur as much comment as what we include, eWeek Labs puts forward this list of the 25 most influential products of the first 25 years of enterprise personal computing.
1. IBM PC
With a brand that said “business machine” and an open architecture that invited third-party innovation, the IBM PC transformed the IT industry.
Influential out of all proportion to the number of users its had, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications Mosaic browser launched the era of browseable content and the broad adoption of repurposeable markup language.
Archetype of the open-source process and engine of the Web as we know it, The Apache Software Foundations Apache is both an ongoing project and an incubator for related innovation.
4. Intel i386 processor
Defining a 32-bit standard and paving the way for desktop hardware virtualization in multi-tasking platforms, Intels i386 still casts its shadow (a mixed blessing) on PCs today.
Before there was Novell NetWare, Banyan VINES or 3Coms 3+, there was the Xerox foundation that grandfathered innumerable pronouncements of “Year of the LAN.”
6. The Linux kernel
Whether or not the Linux phenomenon should really be called GNU/Linux, the little kernel that could has catalyzed a trifold revolution of technology, process and market.
7. VMware x86
Building on Intels bare-bones foundation, VMware brought new levels of manageability to PC-based technology and redefined the enterprise data center.
8. Apple Macintosh
Streamlining the Xerox-developed WIMP (or window, icon, menu, pointing device) user interface and supporting it with ingenious software and elegant hardware, Apple Computers original Mac is still the essence of modern computing.
Putting strong encryption in the hands of Everyman, PGP—or Pretty Good Privacy—served notice to sovereign spooks that citizen crypto would forever after be an inconvenient truth.
10. Compaq Portable
Though its 34-pound weight broadened awareness of spinal disorders, the Compaq Portable created the modern road warrior.
11. PDF and Acrobat
With inspired innovation in platform-independent rendering of formatted content, Adobe Systems PDF technologies and tools liberate users and business processes from the limits of paper.
12. Lotus 1-2-3
With user-interface innovation that gave rise to look-and-feel lawsuits and with tight and fast code that imposed strict standards for “IBM compatibility,” Lotus 1-2-3 was often the compelling argument for buying a first PC.
Cisco Systems powerfully programmable platform kicked off a cascade of dramatic growth in network intelligence.
14. dBase II
With enough database rigor to be useful and enough programmability to build custom solutions quickly, Ashton-Tates dBase II led to the displacement of many minicomputers by PCs.
15. Palm Pilot
With an almost Zenlike minimalism of both software and hardware complexity, the Palm Pilot was no more than users needed—and exactly what many wanted.
16. 802.11 routers
Widely used, cleverly hacked, and affordably acquired and deployed, Linksys Wi-Fi hardware energized the wireless-network tsunami.
By no means the only product of its kind, Shivas LANRover is still a worthy exemplar of the VPN technology thats made public networks suitable for private transactions.
18. Phoenix BIOS
The basal ganglia of an “IBM-compatible” PC, Phoenixs BIOS sent in the clones.
Fueling a business model with the energy of the Linux revolution, Red Hat served as an existence proof for open-source enterprise offerings.
20. Visual Basic
Reinventing the developer experience of constructing interactive applications, Microsofts Visual Basic paved the way for the crushing dominance of Windows.
Dubbed the Kleenex of network analysis by members of eWeek Labs, Network Generals Sniffer defined its genre.
22. Lotus Notes
Perhaps still the leading demonstration of how to do collaborative groupware, Lotus Notes may gain new leverage as its creator (Ray Ozzie) takes up the technology reins at Microsoft.
23. Windows 95
Despite its 32-bit lipstick on the pig of 16-bit DOS, Windows 95 merged the world of the Web into the mainstream desktop computing environment.
24. Microsoft Office
Mashing up the formerly separate markets of word processors, spreadsheets and databases, Microsoft Office brought forth new synergies for users—and for malware writers.
If the first generation of PCs was about empowerment, the second generation is at least as much about protection—and Nessus offers high-end defense for the midtier user.