In-Depth

Top 14 Products that Changed IT in the PC Era

Here's our picks for some of the most important computing releases ever. Be sure to share your take in the comments!

When it comes to computing hardware and software, we've seen tons of products over the past three decades that had a profound impact on how everyday people gather, process and consume information. The following PC products have a special place in the history of computing:

1. Altair 8800 Some would argue the era of personal computing was born with the release of the Apple II in 1977 and the IBM PC in 1981. Purists say it all began with the Altair, invented by Ed Roberts and released in 1975. Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen developed the software giant's first product for the Altair, a version of BASIC designed to run on the new machine.

2. IBM PC Last year, the industry observed the 30th anniversary of the IBM PC. The DOS-based IBM PC gave birth to personal computing as it's known today.

3. VisiCalc The first commercial spreadsheet for the PC, VisiCalc helped commercialize personal computing. The effort of Dan Brickman and Bob Frankston, VisiCalc first appeared in 1979 on the Apple II and was later released for the IBM PC.

4. Hayes Smartmodem AT&T introduced what's believed to be the first modem in 1958. But in the PC era, credit goes to Hayes, which unveiled the 300-baud Smartmodem in 1981. Hayes-compatible modems permitted the PC to be used to communicate with other computers and online services.

5. Novell NetWare It wasn't long after the first PCs came to market that the next logical step involved making PCs share information. That issue was put to rest when Novell introduced the first version of NetWare in 1983. NetWare introduced the concept of a PC-based file server and would become the de-facto standard for enterprise LANs in the 1980s and 1990s.

6. Lotus Notes While the 1-2-3 spreadsheet put Lotus Development Corp. on the map, the introduction of Lotus Notes set a new bar for how enterprises would collaborate and use messaging. In 1995, IBM bought Lotus for $3.5 billion.

7. Cisco AGS It wasn't the first network router, but the Cisco AGS (Advanced Gateway Server) was the first commercially successful one. The release of this multiprotocol router in 1986 not only bolstered the Internet but gave rise to the enterprise network as well.

8. Windows 95 A few versions of Windows had a huge impact on expanding the PC business over the past three decades, but the release of Windows 95 was a true milestone event. It established the dominance of Windows on the desktop and effectively knocked IBM's OS/2 out of the box. It vastly simplified networking and introduced the concept of "plug-and-play."

9. Linux When Linus Torvalds developed the Linux OS kernel, it started out as a hobby. But the 1991 announcement of the Linux kernel set the stage for an open source OS that some thought threatened the dominance of the Windows desktop. While the Linux desktop never gained critical mass, the Linux server did and continues to have a strong presence both in the datacenter and in the cloud.

10. Netscape Navigator The browser gave rise to the Web, and Netscape Navigator set the stage for the Internet era. Netscape Navigator was the most widely used browser in the mid-1990s, the early days of the Web.

Once Microsoft realized Netscape was a threat to its desktop dominance, Redmond put all of its resources into its own browser -- Internet Explorer. Microsoft's aggressive effort to seal bundling deals with PC OEMs and Internet service providers, along with some miscues by Netscape, rendered the browser war moot by the end of the 1990s.

11. Intel Centrino There are numerous milestones in the history of wireless networking that helped enable mobile computing, but the launch of Intel's Centrino mobile technology helped make WiFi ubiquitous.

12. VMware Workstation 1.0 Virtualization may have its roots in mainframe computing, but the release of VMware Workstation in 1999 helped set the stage for virtual desktops and servers and ultimately for cloud computing. VMware Workstation was the company's first product, allowing companies to install and run one or multiple virtual machines on Windows and Linux desktops.

13. BlackBerry The iPhone may have re-defined the smartphone, but the BlackBerry was the first major smartphone embraced by business users. The first BlackBerry devices had monochrome displays, but users became addicted to their ability to exchange e-mails from their phones. But Research In Motion Ltd. failed to keep pace with the features and applications support of the iPhone, and its market share has since gone into a downward spiral.

14. Apple iPad Riding on the success of iPhone, Apple launched the iPad and it quickly took the PC market by storm. Apple has shipped more than 40 million iPads since the product's release. The iPad has inspired numerous tablet computers, most of which are Android-based to date.

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