15 events that changed technology history

The key milestones that shaped the industry

There are certain key points that have shaped the way technology is today. We've rounded up the 15 most important milestones and explained why they changed the course of the industry.

Technology has become what it is today thanks to key milestones that changed the direction of the industry. For example it was only during a tour of Xerox PARC that Steve Jobs was struck with the idea of Macintosh after seeing the PARC's GUI in action, but would Apple be as popular today if he hadn’t made that pilgrimage?

We've charted the 15 most important points in tech history that have already influenced the direction the industry has taken and will continue to shape its future.

Apple's NeXT move

In the late 1990s, Apple was in bad shape. Its image was tarnished, its market share was declining, and Windows NT and Windows 95 had outpaced the aging Mac OS in features and technology.

Apple's top-secret new OS, codenamed Copland, could restore Apple's technological lead, if it ever shipped. After 10 years of development, it had swelled into an overambitious boondoggle.

In 1996, with no release date for Copland in sight, then-CEO Gil Amelio made one of the toughest decisions in Apple's history. Abandoning the Copland money-pit, he acquired upstart NeXT, which not only had its own, Unix-based OS that could be modified to run on the Mac but also Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as its CEO.

Reunited, Jobs proceeded to reinvent Apple. His successes included not just Mac OS X, but the iMac, the iPod, and a winning line of servers, workstations, and portables. The decision did lead to Amelio's departure, but the legacy of his NeXT move is a radically different Apple than the one he joined.

Xerox and the dawn of free software

You think you have printer problems? Consider this: In 1980, programmers at MIT's artificial intelligence lab, blessed with one of Xerox's newest laser printers, had to run upstairs to check whether a print job was finished because the machine had been installed on the wrong floor.

No problem, thought one MIT hacker. He'd simply modify the printer's software to automatically email users when their jobs were completed. He'd done it before, for earlier Xerox printers; all he needed was the printer's source code. But something had changed. Citing copyright and trade secrecy, Xerox wouldn't release the code for its newest machine without a signed nondisclosure agreement, an unheard-of request at the time.

The hacker was Richard Stallman, and his anger with Xerox fast became the stuff of legend. Stallman declared war on proprietary software, and went on to form the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation, proving that, forcing a coder to do legwork is a sure-fire way to launch a revolt.

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Neil McAllister

InfoWorld
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