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In Pictures: Greatest comebacks in tech history

Knocked flat and left for dead -- these 10 technologies and companies turned around their fate with historic flair

  • Greatest comebacks in tech history April may be the cruelest month, but it's also the time of rebirth and renewal, when hibernating plants spring back to life and even the Cubs still have a chance to win the pennant. The tech industry has witnessed its own of share of rebirth and renewal -- people, technologies, and companies thought to be gone forever, only to rise again. Here are the 10 greatest comebacks in tech, in descending order.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 10: GIFs Once consigned to the dustbin of forgotten graphics formats, the humble GIF (graphics interchange format) made a remarkable resurgence in 2012. Thanks in large part to the popularity of Tumblr, animated GIFs became the preferred tool for snarky commentary on everything from garroulous politicians to grumpy cats. The comeback was so complete that the 25-year-old GIF was named Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary. Next: a sitcom starring William Shatner titled “GIFs My Dad Made.”

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 9: MySpace MySpace went from social networking kingpin to punchline seemingly overnight. When News Corp. dumped it for $35 million in June 2011 -- less than six years after acquiring it for $580 million -- many of us assumed the trailer-trash teen/garage band ghetto would fade into oblivion. But the new Justin Timberlake-infused music-industry-oriented MySpace is actually kind of cool. The jury is still out whether New MySpace will survive the Facebook juggernaut any better than Old MySpace, but the fact the words “MySpace” and “cool” can co-exist in the same sentence is already kind of a miracle.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 8: Windows 7 After the disaster known as Windows Vista, anything beyond the second coming of Microsoft Bob was sure to be an improvement. Still, Windows 7 restored Microsoft's battered reputation for desktop OSes by being what Vista was not -- reliable and relatively bug-free, with less crapware and fewer annoying idiosyncrasies. Little wonder then that Win 7 was adopted much more quickly than its pathetic predecessor. Sadly for Redmond, that comeback appears to have been stalled by Windows 8, which is proving even less popular than Vista, if such a thing is possible.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 7: Computer time-sharing Remember when computing meant typing commands on a keyboard attached to a terminal, with the processing power and data residing in some chilled room far from your desk? If that seems like only yesterday, that's because it was only yesterday. Virtualization and cloud computing represent computer time-sharing 2.0, only instead of dumb boxes that communicate with mainframes, we use smart devices that communicate with server farms. Having your software and data reside on a single machine you have to carry with you? That's so quaint.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 6: Yahoo It's been almost nine months since Marissa Mayer took the helm, and aside from a brief kerfuffle when she killed off work-at-home privileges for pajama-wearing Yahooligans, it's been pretty smooth sailing. No shareholders have called for her head. No internal memos describing chaos and disarray have been leaked. Top talent is slowly being drawn back towards the lumbering Web 1.0 giant instead of running in the opposite direction. And while Mayer hasn't produced any miracles yet, those achievements alone put her ahead of the last half a dozen who've occupied the CEO's chair. That's good enough for us.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 5: Polaroid snaps Remember those grainy, over-saturated, sepia-toned snapshots you had to shake for a minute as they slowly developed before your eyes? If not, you're probably a fan of Instagram -- which is essentially the Polaroid snap reborn, only without the paper or the shaking. Now of course, every digital camera has some kind of Instagrammy filter built in. Even Polaroid itself recently introduced the z2300, a new instant camera/photo printer that -- yes -- mimics Instagram. Someone call a paramedic, we just overdosed on irony.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 4: Tablet/pen computers A fully powered computer you can hold with one hand and control by tapping on the screen? How amazing! How revolutionary! How 1991! No, the iPad did not invent tablet computing; that was done by companies like GRiD, Moment, Go, and others during the first Bush administration. True, they were clunky, pen-based, and not nearly as sexy or popular as the iPad and its countless imitators. Now pens are making a comeback as well with devices like the stylus-based Samsung Note

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 3: Electric cars When GM killed the EV1 project in 1996, wails of anguish and outrage could be heard from eco-warriors and nerdy guys from coast to coast. Everyone else? Not so much. Fast-forward to today, when suddenly geeks with cash and clout are driving a Tesla Roadster or Model S -- and if not, they're on a waiting list to buy one, range anxiety notwithstanding. The Tesla may yet become the DeLorean of the new millennium, but it's proof that electric cars are back, baby -- and not just for nerds any more.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 2: The Final Frontier For a while it looked like we'd all be eating food out of a tube and drinking Tang on gravity-free flights to the moon. After funding for NASA's manned space program got slashed, though, we were forced to play out our dreams on the big screen. Now private space ventures, funded largely by profits from high-tech companies, are bringing the space race home. Elon Musk's other project, SpaceX, has already delivered its first two commercial payloads to the International Space Station. With Virgin Galactic scheduled to take off with six space tourists on board in early 2014, the sky is literally the limit. Take us out of orbit, Mr. Sulu.

  • Greatest tech comeback No. 1: Steve Jobs & Apple There is no greater comeback story in technology than when the prodigal CEO returned to the Apple fold in 1997. By now the story is nearly legend. Jobs' post-Apple startup, NeXT computing, had not exactly set the world on fire, and Apple was floundering. It was so bankrupt that Jobs' first order of business as interim CEO was to get a $150 million infusion of cash from Bill Gates. Neither the company nor the man was in any position to be picky about their fates. But slowly and surely Jobs brought Apple back -- and with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, helped change the entertainment, communications, and computing industries forever.

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