April 4, 2007

The greatest tech product of all time: Netscape.

According to PC World, which has a top 50. You may disagree with some of these -- Tetris is 10 -- but they give reasons. (Tetris was "one of" -- one of! -- "the first games that required actual use of your brain, and it shook up the gaming industry in profound ways.")


Joe said...

Netscape WAS good. Now AOL has it and it sucks.

Hazy Dave said...

The "first game that required actual use of your brain" statement is blatantly false. Tetris' innovation was mostly that there was no shooting, hitting, eating, chasing or destroying of other characters in the game, and it was still a fast-moving ever-changing addictive puzzle to solve. (Pong met the first criteria, but fell short a bit in the latter category.)

MadisonMan said...

Zork should be on the list instead of tetris.

I'm glad the SmartModem is on the list. I still recall the elation of plugging in my first 9600-baud modem (ca. 1988) and seeing the text just fly by!

bill said...

Pretty good list. For myself, I'd add two:

The PINE email client. Made email almost fun compared to using ELM.

And back when the best way to get around the internet was knowing how to use Archie and Gopher, the Web was new, modems were slow, the X-terminals in the computer lab were always full, the Lynx text viewer was a wonderfully efficient way to browse.

Pete Fanning said...

I was more of a Doom person myself :)

SteveR said...

I loved using Netscape (late nineties)

Ann Althouse said...

I used to play Zork! It was really hard. All text. You had to picture everything. Tetris is about addictive simplicity. It's impressive from a design standpoint.

The Drill SGT said...

I think they ranked games and consumer items like tivo too high and some things like the original Mac OS much too low.

And though frankly it wasn't created by Microsoft, I was surprised that MS-DOS didnt make the list. It certainly was a consumer product that created a (evil?) empire.

Bruce Hayden said...

The problem with DOS is that it was evolutionary. It really didn't have much that CP/M had (and indeed was essentially cloned from a derivative of it). And CP/M was a crude PC version of Unix, which of course was a stripped down minicomputer version of Multics (ok, I admit bias here - I was patent counsel for the company that ended up owning Multics, and did much of the legal work to finally shut it down - Also, I have read Gary Kildall's autobiography, which is his side of how MSFT ended up with DOS).

I would definately put the Mac in the top 5. After all, it is the basis for the GUI that most of us use now (though for most of us, in the guise of Windows). For those of us who spent a lot of time in DOS, it was a major breakthrough. But then, should they be recognizing the PARC origins?

I would also put the Internet up near the top. And having been involved in data communications throughout the 1980s, that the big breakthroughs were DNS and porting TCP/IP to run over Ethernet (and ATM, etc.) We struggled and gave up trying to port it to run over X.25 in the late 1980s, and then, just a couple of years later, it was running over Ethernet, etc. and it exploded.

And if they are going to recognize Netscape, what about Mosaic, and, indeed, Hypertext. While Netscape gave the WWW to the masses, it surely didn't give it to me. Interestingly, IE 6 still prominently recognized its roots in Mosaic all these years later (check "About" in the Help tab).

YAMB said...

Something I remember reading about Tetris in its early days was its appeal to women. It was one of the first games to have broad appeal across the sexes, and designers were eager to figure out why women would play Tetris when they weren't typically drawn to other kinds of video games.

I can personally attest to Tetris' appeal and addictiveness to women, or at least this woman.

The Drill SGT said...

Bruce, I agree having used Mosaic 1A5 back in 1993

but on the MS-DOS issue, they seemed to be valuing market share and consumer impact far more than innovation. that's why I made my MSDOS comment. it wasnt innovative, but it had a huge impact on the industry.

Bruce Hayden said...

Getting back to Ethernet and the Internet, during the latter 1980s, I was working as a software engineer supporting the Dept. of Agriculture. We had implemented a crude file transfer protocol over X.25, and were looking at the next revision. At the time, we had one of the larger networks around, some ten thousand computers, that had to somewhat communicate with each other. Our home grown FTP protocol just wasn't going to work.

One of our designers had worked on the design of TCP/IP while in graduate school, and convinced us to try to implement it. Meanwhile, we were also trying to implement an OSI model in parallel. The problem then was that TCP/IP ran over a network of IMPs, which were dedicated communications front end systems. The IMPs communicated with each other and one or more backend hosts. There weren't very many of them - maybe a couple dozen. A Sprint company had won a department wide X.25 contract, and we thus had to run whatever we developed over that.

We kept hitting brick walls, and after a bit over a year, abandoned the TCP/IP project. Mostly, the problems involved addressing issues - of how to convert IP addresses to X.25 addresses.

And then, all of a sudden, a couple years later, it was ported to run over Ethernet, etc., and the rest is history. But it was nowhere trivial - we had a lot of good minds working on it, and couldn't find a good, elegent, general solution.

Of course, with the tools available today, notably DNS, I could probably do most of the work to make TCP/IP run over Ethernet in a day or two.

But looking back, you have to remember first that TCP/IP had been optimized for a very different environment than what it is used for today. And secondly, that the trend at the time was towards a very structured 7 layer OSI model. TCP/IP over Ethernet is nowhere near OSI compliant (as defined in the late 1980s). Indeed, we were, during that time, facing U.S. govt. mandates that future data communications systems be OSI compliant. Not only the government, of course, but everyone then was trying to move in that direction. Then, all of a sudden, a real bastardized protocal(s), TCP/IP, took over the world.

Balfegor said...

I would definately put the Mac in the top 5. After all, it is the basis for the GUI that most of us use now (though for most of us, in the guise of Windows). For those of us who spent a lot of time in DOS, it was a major breakthrough. But then, should they be recognizing the PARC origins?

Whoever had the first mouse-controlled GUI should be up there in the top five at leastk, whether it was Apple or this PARC thing I've never heard of. That should probably rank higher than Netscape which, while a great product in its day, just doesn't feel like it had anything like the same impact.

I also wonder what the Zip drive is doing there. It was a nifty device, sure, and for a few years I stocked up on large numbers of Zip disks. But seems to have turned out to be pretty much a dead end, as far as data storage goes.

Glad to see Linux appears there (if only at #45), but I think that other more application-style open source projects should be on the list somewhere. Blender, for example, is the first open source product that, honestly, seems to me to have a broader and more useable feature set than commercial products (e.g. Caligari Truespace) -- it's not quite a rival to programs like Maya, but it comes closer with every release. In other areas, the GIMP is a widely used open source graphics editor, and the Open Office suite of applications, while still buggy, shows some promise of developing into a serious rival to commercial products. I think that development is pretty significant -- not immediately, perhaps, but with a significant potential to change the dynamics of a lot of the software industry.

I'd also include hotmail and other (ad-supported?) free email services as a major tech product. They're kind of borderline for a top-50 list, but significant, I think.

The Drill SGT said...

PARC was to computing as Menlo Park was to electricity. well sort of :)


katiebakes said...

what a fun list! makes me nostalgic for when my dad finally caved and upgraded to the SUPER FAST 2400 baud modem.

i also got a huge kick out of the part about printing out those banners on the connected printer paper every time there was a party. we used to spend hours designing those things!

i think the most significant tech product in my life was the buddy list.

Joe said...

Of all time?

How about, I don't know, the printing press? Telephone? AC current? The light bulb? The transistor?

The microprocessor was arguably the single most important invention after the transistor.

The Apple II was important because it first commoditized computers.

However it was the IBM PC/DOS/Lotus 1-2-3 combination that made a compelling business case for personal computers. dBase and WordPerfect aren't far behind. The impact the IBM PC and these three software packages was beyond huge; everything else since pales in comparison.

The next most significant product was Phoenix BIOS, which made clones possible.

(And while Netscape was important, it really just laid the foundation--it was bad old Internet Explorer that brought web surfing to the masses. And anyone who actually had to use early Netscape can remember what a miserable piece of software it was--oh, the memories of it crashing hard while doing nothing!)

Tibore said...

Well Balfegor, I'd have to say that personally, I agree with Zip being on the list. The Zip was the most successful product of the early mass storage drives. I remember when I was in sales, and before that in college, how difficult mass transport of data was. Zips were salvation in price and capacity. I remember the earliest worm and MO (magneto-optical) drives that predated the Zips; they were wonderful, but Zip just somehow took off and captured the consumer public's imagination somehow (I actually preferred MO's at first, before the price and availability of media was so solidly in favor of the Zips). The fact it became a dead-end, victimized by CD-R (then -RW, then DVD-R, etc.) doesn't change the fact that in it's time, it was THE removable, portable storage medium of choice.

Tibore said...

Regarding the rest of the top 50:

I do agree with Linux's inclusion, although I have a bit of a quibble in singling out Red Hat. Then again, this list is about "consumer" products, right, even though the article says "Tech Products" so I guess that's why Red Hat's there.

This list has to be limited to "consumer"/end user tech products. Otherwise, the non-inclusion of the Apache web server would be way too big a blunder.

Anyway, moving on...

Sound Blaster 16... one of the first products so prevalent to x86 architecture that it was practically a standard. I remember selling those; it was a product I could honestly get behind because it was just so durn reliable. Other cards sounded better, but SB16's just plain worked when you slapped them in.

Bill: Good notice on Pine. Yes, to me, that unequivacably belongs on that list. Maybe it wasn't included because it was mostly deployed server-side. Still though, I think it needs to be **high** on the list.

And Gopher... totally forgot about it's existence. Gopher used to be the way to go to get things. Find an address somewhere like on Usenet and go get it.

Here's some thoughts:

PC-Anywhere. I'd consider putting it on the list; when I used to deal with large clients, PC-Anywhere was one of the most sought after remote administration tools out there. Terminal Services has pretty much put that out to pasture, but in it's day, it was in serious demand. At least for my customers. Way back then.

Winsock: Anyone remember having to install that to get internet connectivity? It was one of the most important programs out there in the early days of dialing in.

And what about Zip, as in PKZip and WinZip? Or, in the Mac world, Aladdin's Stuffit Expander? Even nowadays, compressing a file for transfer is desireable, if not as mandatory as times past. But back when 14.4k was a screamin' connection, file compression was of the utmost importance. If you were a Unix geek, you could always tar-and-gzip, and/or uuencode, split, and reassemble. But Stuffit and PKZip made compression easy. I really think it should be up high on that list.

Given the popularity of music downloads, whether illicit or not ;), would a standard be eligible? It's not really a "consumer product", nor a tech "product". I'm of course talking about ".mp3" Don't know if it should be on this list or not, but I sort of feel it belongs. Without it, number 6 (the iPod) may not have come to be.

And as long as we're talking iPod: What about the one that pretty much started it all: The Creative Labs Rio? Yes, the iPod is far, far more popular, and a trillion times better, but the Rio opened the door (yes, I know Eiger Lab's F10 came first, but no one even knew about digital audio players until the Rio came out. The F10 may have existed first, but the Rio truly "opened the door" to DAPs for the consumer).

Stopping here... it's time for lunch, and I could go on forever...

LoafingOaf said...

Tetris is a fun and addictive game, but it doesn't require brains. Once you pick up the simple and obvious strategy for staying alive, you can keep a game going for a really long time while completely drunk and only semi-conscious.