Patents

All time top PC tech innovations


MaximumPc.com compiled a list of top 100 technology innovations of all times. The list acknowledges the hardware and software innovations that went into making technology the domain that it is today. What is you take on it?

The roster of top 20 innovations from the list is:

    1. USB (1996) - Bought in several concepts such as drawing power, swapping of devices without shutting down PC, and to this day is the killer of port woes.
    2. 3dfx Voodoo 1 (1996) - To put it in brief, this card started the era of separate cards on your motherboard and 3D gaming was born.
    3. Intel Pentium II (1997) - An innovative slot based packaging of CPU (relegating the exposed pin socket design) let Intel's processor better handle multimedia functions.
    4. NCSA Mosaic (1993) - The first Web browser that ushered in the graphical World Wide Web.
    5. Windows XP (2001) - The OS ranks higher than its ancestor 95 and 98 for its stability and several new features.
    6. Quake (1996) - The game that showcased real 3D models, unlike 2D seen in games earlier.
    7. Hayes Smartmodem (1981) - The gateway to the Internet in the per-broadband era.
    8. IBM 5150 (1981) - The first modern PC - with 16 KB of RAM and two 5.25-inch drives. How times have changed!
    9. Doom (1993) - Immensely popular game that has been ported to almost every platform.
    10. DirectX (1995) - Graphics API from Microsoft that made it to an industry standard platform.
    11. MP3 (1991) - The ONLY universally supported music format to date.
    12. Mouse (1963) - From Xerox to Apple to the world, it revolutionized usability.
    13. 802.11b (1999) - The first successful move to totally wire-free adequate data transmission.
    14. Intel 486 DX (1989) - The chip that debuted on-ship cache, instruction pipelining, and a floating point Unit (FPU).
    15. MS - DOS (1980) - Brought computing with simplicity, (UNIX fans would disagree, but that's how it is.)
    16. NVidia GeForce 2 (2000) - Brought 3D Graphics to main stream.
    17. Fast Ethernet (1995) - Uplifted Ethernet from 10 MBps to 100 MBps.
    18. Western Digital Caviar 1GB (1994) - The first affordable drive to break the 1 GB barrier.
    19. Lithium-Ion Cells (1991) - Replaces nickel batteries to make portable computing truly possible.
    20. Creative Labs Sound Blaster 1.0 (1989) - Add-in card that brought voice to PCs.

Ranking the all time top technologies would be tough indeed. I would have had Google Search at the head of the list. Also, TCP/IP would have been at the top.

So, here's a poll on the innovations that in my opinion really defined the landscape:

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55 comments
alieninvader
alieninvader

I agree with six out of the twenty (so I put up 13 of my own). See my blog: http://tvstrategies.blogspot.com/2007/12/top-pc-tech-innovations.html From '81-'88, I was with a computer retailer in So Calif and sold Apple, the Commodore PET, Altos, Vector Graphic, Grid, IBM, Compaq, Osbourne... From '88-93 I managed Northern Telecom (Nortel)'s relationship with Apple. From '93 through until '99, I was a product mgr for Aldus/Adobe and others, then IPTV middleware company Myrio, and now on my own since 2001. So I hafta say I lived through all this and remember it all very well!

alan
alan

Wow, While this is all a great discussion, Sonja left out one very important word in the title of the article she is quoting from. The article is titled "The Top 100 PC Tech Innovations of All Time", so it is PC Tech, and not just tech. So let the submissions continue, but lets leave out the fire and wheel ref's.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

This post was actually written by Arun Radhakrishnan, but I should have caught that accidental omission during my editing pass. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention.

Mishap
Mishap

If so, then is a sorry statement regarding the quality of editing within this fine publishing establishment.

alan
alan

I believe so. Not sure why it would be left out since the list only concerns the modern PC era.

ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898
ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898

I would most certainly put Linux on there! I mean come on! LINUX!!! :) Most of the internet is run on that now! Or if you want to really go technical, Unix is what started it all... And let's not forget some of the internet technologies: php, mysql, .net, shockwave flash, streaming video, etc. If you were to list all the technological innovations of all time, the list would get endless. Then outside of the home PC realm, there's cars with GPS, computers, some park by themselves, or collision warning systems, talking warnings and GPS, etc. Cars have become smarter too. And in the movies - Some of the neatest stuff is being done with CGI (though some may disagree, I do enjoy some of the CGI-based movies like Cars, Stuart Little, Transformers, iRobot, etc.) Bluetooth anyone? The DVD format, CD-RW? CDs in general? MP3 is mentioned but what of the players? Video players? iPods, CELL PHONES!!!? Too many to list!

theillien
theillien

This isn't a list of "all the technological innovations of all time". It is a subjective (as one poster correctly pointed out) list of the top 100 innovations. Makes me look back to my original comment about where "all-time" ends. Hell, Charles Babbage created a rudimentary calculator in the mid-1800s. The Chinese were using an abacus well before that. All-time my heiney.

Brazen1
Brazen1

Oh yeah, forgot about the abacus. Here's my list so far: 1. controlling fire 2. wheel 3. abacus 4. controlling electricity 5. paper - allowing the written word

Brazen1
Brazen1

your just listing off the tech tree from Sid Meier's Civilization :D

michael.laborde
michael.laborde

The stone axe, metallurgy, the plow, bow and arrow, steam engine, airplane, mathematics, medicine & surgery, sails, navigation, mapmaking, bridle and reins, sewing

Brazen1
Brazen1

"language" but thought that was deviating too far from "technology". I'll add "paper" to it.

Synthetic
Synthetic

Written, archivable language. To that one might then add paper and the printing press.

ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898
ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898

LOL! So true! As for top 100. After reading other posts after posting mine, we could say Manufacturing, Automobiles and Computers would be in the top 100. I just now thought of this: Electricity, TV, Radio, and Telephone... It's fun though to look back on these things and see how far we have come in such a short time, though.

zbyte
zbyte

I do not know who MaximumPC is, But it seems that they only know about PC's (Wintel computers). While I would agree with some of the items on the list should be there, some are missing and some should not be there. There is no mention whatsoever of the TRS-80 line of computers, the Apple II computer or the Commodore Pet computer. It was these three that created the home/business desktop environment. They ruled the desktop till 1982 (the IBM PC having come out in the fall of 1981). Not only that, but the fact remains, without those three; there would not have been an IBM PC. Another innovation not listed is the Macintosh technology. Quite simply, Apple brought the graphical user interface (GUI) to the desktop for popular use. It can be argued that Apple did not exactly invent the GUI, but they were certainly responsible for making it user friendly and making it available to the masses. Another historical fact is that if there were no Macintosh, there would not be a "Windows". The digital camera is also not mentioned, or flash cards. I suggest that whoever conducts a survey like this, should know the technology better and have a better representative sample.

theillien
theillien

If this is the "all-time" list why aren't transistors #1? If not for them none of the other stuff is even possible. I always wonder why people who compile these lists seem to think that technology began with the computer anyway.

ozi Eagle
ozi Eagle

As the previous poster said "all time". However, I would suggest that using the definition all time, then the top tech. innovations (not just computing) would be the use of fire, agriculture and the wheel. Without these we would still be picking fleas out of each others hair in the back of a cold cave.

michael.laborde
michael.laborde

If this were really all-time tech then these would be the lead items: 1. The stone axe 2. Control of fire 3. The wheel 4. The harness and bridle 5. Metal casting and forming 6. The water wheel 7. The steam engine 8. The electric light 9. The electronic tube 10. Radio There is at least a million years of technology before 1980.

picmajik
picmajik

I would add telegraph/telephone somewhere in this list also. Some consider this the first "internet" type system of networking end users. Phonographs Movies/Film vs wetplate photography Photography there were more "tech" breakthroughs than just pcs and post 1980 innovations. (not that I don't have a soft spot in my heart for them) I remember our first TRS-80 pc on campus with 32K RAM and a 5 1/4 floppy--no more cassette loads--oooooh!

james
james

Without the transistor could you imagine carrying around a device like the an I-Pod made from vaccum tubes, it would be like dragging an elephant around with you!!! Or personal home computers that have a whole room dedicated to housing the computer!!! HEHEHE!!!! The transistor is the obvious #1 here.

Brazen1
Brazen1

And what about the wheel?! or fire?! You can't leave those out.

ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898
ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898

Wheel yes. That's true! But fire we had (I assume volcanic eruptions, etc.) before we could use it. With that I guess I take back an earlier post about "Electricity" being an invention since we've also had lightning for a long time before we had the light bulb or tesla coil. I guess I'm thinking in terms of tools we create, more than in harnessing the power or what already was available to us from the start.

Brazen1
Brazen1

eh, I suppose that is a somewhat valid point. So maybe "flint" would be a better way of putting it? Maybe there is even something older than flint for harnessing fire, I dont' know.

ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898
ByteBin-20472379147970077837000261110898

And before Transisters there were computing machines, even if they were made up of gears or vaccum tubes and could only to simple calculations. So if you're talking technology, I guess you could say the computer itself would be the all-time top technological wonder. Along with Cars and manufacturing plants!

Mark Boz
Mark Boz

What about X-Windows? 25 years old and still showing that it' superior design of separating "windowing" funcitons from "user interface styles" was really the right thing to do. I love some of these so-called Linux Guru's who say they don't use X-Windows.. they user Gnome. Well Gnome is ther personality on TOP of X-Windows.. Its IP networking model pre-dated Mosaic by a decade and in 1990 I had graphical connections to AIX machines in Switzerland, New York, Colorodo and San Jose on the same desktop without problems. I do not think that windows can do this today. I predict X-Windows with some future user interface design will be around in another 25 years as it simply works "as designed" by the true geniuses at MIT.

p.lukanov
p.lukanov

I can argue ... Quake and Doom before the mouse .. you can try and play the games without mouse :)

Antagonist
Antagonist

If you actually ever tried to play the games without a mouse you would realize how ridiculous this post of yours is.

Mishap
Mishap

We had joysticks LONG before mice. And they worked GREAT for games!

alnikolov
alnikolov

I can agree with you, but I had played Doom without a mouse for a very long time. There was no PC with mouse on the campus, but there was Doom.

Sonja Thompson
Sonja Thompson

Do you think maximumpc.com missed the boat on the top tech innovations? Which innovations do you think are the top contenders?

mark_penny
mark_penny

Many of the hardware inovations in the PC world occured 5 - 20 years previously in the mainframe/midrange world. How about virtualization? Been available on mainframes since the 70's.

mhbowman
mhbowman

Vista!?!? I can't believe it's not on the list. (Extreme Sarcasm) Good article, nice memories etc. I would suggest that being first doesn't necessarily indicate best. Word Perfect? I always thought the Commodore Amiga was a nice effort. Three seperate processors and still under $500.

Freebird54
Freebird54

It wasn't only price that set it apart - 1. first truly multi-tasking personal system 2. first real video capability 3. first graphically gorgeous games :) 4. first serious sound capability built in 5. first (and still only!) system capable of running multiple resolutions at the same time on the same monitor! Quite a lot for a single system - there had to be some serious innovation to get all that together.... BTW: early home computers such as the Apple II and the C64 had available an option to run CP/M - and dBaseII and VisiCalc etc. Those kind of capabilities did NOT show up on the PC originally... :)

Mishap
Mishap

If you are going to make a list of Top Tech, then the PC and all of everything that runs on it is already in way down the list! Virtually everything that is on the PC today, was done somewhere else before. The Top Tech should be listing the real breakthroughs that made it possible: vacuum tubes and the computers made with them, transistors and the computers made with them. From that point on there is little 'revolution' or 'top', it's evolutionary. Each 'new' is built on smaller/faster versions of the prior. Xerox Parc was the Tech Creator behind mice and user friendly GUI's. X-Windows is right there behind Xerox Parc's systems. To list WIndows anything is patently absurd. There have been good STABLE operating systems LONG before XP, and Windows owes it's existance to the Apple Lisa! MS-Dos is another sham, it's stolen from the now long forgotten Seattle Computer Products that created it! And that was 'stolen' from CP/M, which was 'stolen' from Unix! USB isn't any better, Atari and Comodore both used 'universal serial busses' for their 8-bit systems to support peripherals, USB is just a logical extension of much older technology, supported by newer hardware! Breaktrhough it NOT. It would appear that the writes behind Maximum PC do not realize that technology existed before the PC (heck, I have a copy of Visi-Calc for my Atari 800 (8-bit home computer system)!

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Just an FYI, I read one issue of Maximum PC and thought that the lack of technical details made it not worth my time to read. You can get the same data online for free.

TheGooch1
TheGooch1

Whenever you list "top" or "best" or "most influencial", you are asking for an opinion. That means you are getting subjective answers which are usually all over the map depending upon what the respondent thinks. However, it does make a good conversation started to waste time. On the positive side, you do get insight into the opinions amongst your target group.

TechinMN
TechinMN

It's a pretty good list, but I still can't figure out why Doom is on it. It's a game that was simply popular. If that's there, then they should have Office since that had far more penetration and a huge impact on office productivity. No, I'd remove Doom and add the GUI. It's been around as long as mice have been, and was a major innovation that is still in almost-exclusive use. It's everywhere, not just on computers anymore, and a large percentage of the computing population couldn't use a computer without it.

Synthetic
Synthetic

The release of Doom created ripples across the industry that are still felt to this day. 1. Doom and the Doom 3-D engine ushered in the world of first person shooters and 3-d interactive gaming. This has led both directly and indirectly to massive development of the adoption of the consumer market PC, memory and HDD increases, advanced graphics hardware and generally been a boon to hardware manufacturers. In 1995 the widespread installation of the shareware had it installed on more computers world wide than Windows. 2. It can be argued the adoption of Doom specific work place policies, due to decreased loss of productivity and network grind downs resulted in very early consideration of PC based HR policies when few existed (for better or worse) as well as showing many network admins and the CTO's that infrastructure improvements and investments were going to be a critical part of near future expansion strategies. 3.The Doom WAD files made programming understandable and attractive to many early enthusiast. The popularity of WAD creation also helped to push the hacker share and share alike DIY ascetic as well as put the ideals of COPYLEFT into the technology mainstream. 4.Doom largely sparked and phrased the debate around(poorly placed in my humble opinion) arguments about virtual violence and technology censorship an issues that has had far reaching consequences to public policy and the moral definition of many aspects of how and what we do with technology. 5. Pop culture. This game at the time was a phenomenon almost single handedly spawning the gamine subculture as well as user inspired content. 6. Had it not been for Doom we would never have had Bill Gates super impose himself killing zombies in Doom to promote Windows 95 which was/is incredibly amusing. You made some good points and I agree the GUI was critical for many causal consumers to adopt and demand development of apps we now consider common, but I would rather have a stable command line that work in 95/98 and play Doom and it predesseors like Halo than well most MS GUI's. Ok, before I take any knocks, I wrote this out quickyl (needing to get back to work ;-) and could have likely thought out my arguments a bit better. Cheers

pr.arun
pr.arun

... the next generation of programmers to work out the next generation of graphics processors.

aikimark
aikimark

* VisiCalc and Lotus 1-2-3 -- 'first' spreadsheets. These applications drove the need for ever greater memory sizes, HiMem and its cousins, and Uncle Bill's famous "640K is enough memory" quote. * I would have put the 386 ahead of the 486. * TurboPascal, for sure * QBasic interprepter in PC DOS * dBase -- 'first' database * WordPerfect -- 'first' word processor

online
online

Long before WordPerfect there was WordStar, available first for CP/M systems back in the mid to late 70s. The command and navigation interface for WordStar set a standard that is still emulated in many text editing applications, and did just about everything you actually NEED to do with a word processor in a couple of dozen kilobytes. If you want to go back further, Electric Pencil processed words even earlier on S-100 microcomputer systems, even before CP/M became the pre-IBM-PC OS standard. As good and long-lived as WordPerfect is and was, it's far from any sort of "first" word processor.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

PeachText and PeachCalc were part of the initial software provided for my Zenith 100 as part of the first USAF Desktop PC purchase in 1984.

aikimark
aikimark

I didn't have the opportunity to use the CP/M system. I'd hoped to get some mention of pre-WP word processors.

mkchris
mkchris

WordStar, CalcStar, DataStar, ReportStar...

Snak
Snak

My contender for the Top tech innovation would be (certainly in the UK) the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. I'd have picked its forerunner, the ZX81 but it wasn't until the Spectrum came out that Home Computing really took off. It was a $200 (today's conversion rate) computer with built-in BASIC programming language, 8 colours and 48K RAM. Following it came the Dragon 32, the Vic20, the BBC computer and a host of others. The Spectrum brought 'computing' to the masses and (IMO) sparked off the whole caboodle. It is amazing how many systems developers, programmers and other top-notch people attribute (or blame) their career paths on the humble Spectrum. I appreciate that in the States you had the TRS 80 and other bundles of scaffolding to issue in the age of hobbyist geek, but Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner brought it to the masses. If you want to look specifically at the (IBM compat) PC, then in the UK it was the Amstrad PC1512 (or, for more money, the PC1640) that delivered the first $1600 (again, today's conversion) desktop computer that started the business desktop computing revolution.

tony.kew
tony.kew

I started of with a ZX81 with 1kb of memory and then added a 16kb ram pack. My first serious application was writing a monthly accounting package for a small retailer I worked for at the time in Basic. Depending on their monthly payment into this account, they were allowed goods upto 10 times the monthly account. Within the application they had the ability to update payment and purchase details. I also wrote a simple golf program, for me, and a simple Maths game for my children called Fox and Chickens in which the Fox and Eggs in which the hens would lay x eggs and the fox would steal y eggs. The children had to then input how many were left and then an appropriate screen was displayed. At the age of 36(in 1986) I then decided to try a career in computing and took a 2 year HND course in computing at Manchester Poly. This took me from a 17 year career in Retail to a 18 year career in computing.

brownjohn
brownjohn

An affordable, home PC is a good idea for the number 1 spot, but i think we're all missing something obvious. The most best tech innovation of all time would have to be the internet.

Snak
Snak

... hijacked.

aikimark
aikimark

What you know as the 'Internet' is an amalgam of defense/research networks that was eventually opened up for commercial applications. DARPAnet Ethernet UseNet

Snak
Snak

... the internet is just an obvious extention of the network idea, and, as other posters have pointed out, the microprocessor is an obvious extention of the transistor idea, there is the temptation to suggest that the transistor should be the number 1 innovation. I would not accept that the transistor is an extension of the vacuum tube ('valve' in the UK) idea as it uses totally different technology even though it does pretty much the same job. If you want, you can cite Babbage's analytical engine as the forerunner to all of this, but you'd be wrong. You cannot leap from cogs and gears to microprocessors, no matter how many steps you take. But perhaps the concept of programming a machine (you can 'program' gears and cogs) will suffice. I think though, that I will stick by what I said and cite the Home Computer as the number 1 innovation. Not because it's a computer as such (it was obviously and certainly not the first computer), but because it did bring 'computing' to the masses, opening the way for all of the subsequent innovation that followed - not technologically speaking maybe as that may well have developed anyway, but allowing anyone to get hold of the equipment necessary to become the innovators of today.