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The Industrial Era

1996 -1999

Internet came of age. And companies like Microsoft, AOL and Prodigy, were entering the internet market

Multi Media machines and digital camera's became affordable for the average consumer

For this period counts the same as the previous chapter:
the material shown here is not yet of historic value, seeing the time that elapsed since 1994 the editors felt to display in this and the next chapters the new trends in computing.


video games


pre history | antiquity | pre industrial era | industrial era

1947 1949 1950 1952 1955 1958 1961 1963 1965 1969 1970 1972 1974
1976 1978 1980 1981 1982 1984 1986 1989 1991 1993 1994 1996 2000
2002 2005 2007                    







Corel (founded 1985) buys WordPerfect, Quattro Pro, and the PerfectOffice application suite from Novell.



quatro pro


pictures courtesy Corel 2000/2006

Corel pays US$180 million in cash, stock, and future licensing royalties for the office suite. A high price in hindsight.


Intel introduces the 200 MHz Pentium processor, shipping it initially in small quantities.

It incorporated 3.3 million transistors, and performed at 284 MIPS. Price was US$599 in quantities of 1000. See also More's law


Microsoft unveils Windows CE operating system for hand-held PCs.

windows ce

Code-name of the project is Pegasus. "CE" stands for Consumer Electronics.


The first successful and affordable Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) become available to consumers.

The installed memory is large enough to hold thousands of contacts, appointments and notes. PDA's can do calculations, play games and music and potentially download information from the Internet. Since the interface was very easy to use it becomes an in mediate hit with consumers. It is small and light enough to fit in a shirt pocket and runs for weeks on a few AAA batteries.(4)

see also: Palm Pilot


IBM launches OS/2 Warp 4, in San Francisco, California. Priced at US$249.

os/2 warp 4


Apple Computer buys the NeXT Software company for about US$425 million in cash and Apple stock. 


CD-ReWritable disc and recorder technology introduced.


One of the first web shops is opened by IBM: World Avenue. IBM calls it a "Web shopping mall" that allows online vendors to rent virtual storefronts.

This is one of the earliest examples of commercial site hosting. However, the online mall concept fails to catch on, and IBM will close World Avenue a year later. (10)


The New York Times , which previously offered its content through America Online, announces that it has launched its own web site.

picture courtesy: web.archive.org (17)

It is the first paper to do so. As consumers move from proprietary services like AOL to the Web throughout late 1995 and 1996, proprietary services begin to lose customers, and many publishers start to migrate their content to the Web. (10)

tomb raider

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is developed by Toby Gard & Phil Campbelland from Core Design, published by Eidos Interactive. Tomb Raider follows the exploits of Lara Croft, a British female archaeologist in search of ancient treasures à la Indiana Jones. (19)

tomb raider 1

pictures courtesy Eidos, collage by thocp

Lara Croft, a modern time virtual heroine quickly becomes a new (cult) figure. In a few years publicity agencies will succeed to change Lara Croft into a real person from the idea of serving as a role model for modern young adventurous women. About exploiting a game to its fullest... But this sets a trend. Games become movies, as books become movies become games.


January. General Electric (GE) sells its Genie online service.

GE was one of many corporations that tried to enter the online service game in the early 1990s. However, the rise of the web draws customers away from online services, and many ventures, like Genie, are sold and turned into Internet Service Providers (ISP). (10)


February. Pointcast, a little-known company in Cupertino, California, announces a beta version of its Pointcast software.

The service, which grabs information from the Web to display it on the user's screen, kicks off a year of industry hype about "push" technologies. The hype fades after a year or so when consumers fail to embrace push-technology over active web browsing. (10) Push technology will evolve into the annoying pop-up windows a few years later. On its turn triggering a tug of war between the advertisers and the commercial defenders. Anti pop-up utilities will be a standard feature of most browsers in about 6 years.

thocp In March and April, Lycos, Excite, and Yahoo, al search engines went public. All will perform strongly. (10)

June, eBay is founded by Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar.

The site is started as a collector's exchange site that will grow into the world's largest "personal trading community".

Microsoft releases its Internet Explorer browser on August 11, 1996, to compete with Netscape's Navigator software.

The two companies engaged in a rapid series of upgrades and promotional offers to win market share. (10)
The way Microsoft pushes this browser, e.g. by integrating this into the MS Window software, will in about 8 years result to that some 96% of all web users use Internet Explorer. Some courts will rule that this practice is crossing the line of legal competitive commercial behavior and deems that Microsoft must separate Internet Explorer from their Windows operating system. It will take years of legal battle and counter attacks before Microsoft will comply. However practice will neutralize the court's decision, by enabling to disable IE as a standard browser. And it seems that the US legal system is forgetting what it started with.


October. Prodigy, once one of the top three online service providers, re launched itself as an Internet access provider.

Sears and IBM have launched the joint venture in the late 1980s but sold it in 1996 as online service customers migrated to the web. Although Prodigy continues to provide a proprietary online service, the company's management says that Internet access will become the company's main focus. Prodigy will go public in 1998. (10)

thocp A new version of the development methodology Prince2 is published, having been contributed to by a consortium of some 150 European organizations.(13)

March, the Palm Pilot is available for consumers.

palm pilot(14)

This one is successful contrary to earlier types from Tandy (Zoom), Apple (Newton) or Psion (Psion organizer) The so called Personal Digital Assistant or PDA can do numeric calculations, play games and music and download information from the Internet. (15)

The PalmPilot is manufactured by Palm Computing, a division of U.S. Robotics. Pilot Pen Corporation brings a trademark infringement suit against the company. Beginning in 1998, the devices are known officially as Palm Connected Organizers.(19)


Bluetooth technology is invented by Dutchman J. Haaften employed by Ericsson (Sweden).


In about 2 years time this technology will be adapted as an industry standard because Ericsson has put the technology in the public domain as an open architecture. The latter is also one of the main reasons why the PC technology is flying high since the mid eighties. Bluetooth is suitable to be built into many appliances, but was developed for the mobile telephony.

Cell phone's until now could only "bleep" a melody.

When Nokia, a Finnish cell-phone company, introduces“smart messaging,” a protocol that allows people to send text messages to one another over their phones Vesa-Matti Paananen, a Finnish computer programmer, figures that it can work as well for sending bits of songs. Paananen develops software and calls it Harmonium. The software is able to program cell phones to produce harmonic melodies. That melody can be send to friends by using smart messaging.(12)

In this year IBM releases Deep Blue

A super computer tailored to beat a world champion chess player: Garry Kasparov. The machine performs at a trillion Flops. But many critics are saying that it has only beaten Kasparov by brute force and had little to do with AI. Fact is that it is the most powerful computer for this year.

At a forum discussion held at Computer History Museum in Mountain View, on 8 September 2005, Murray Campbell stated:

Deep Blue's strategic and imaginative qualities were illusory, however. "Deep Blue did not have an effective ability to learn," Campbell said at the forum. "The entire machine was honed and tuned by hand." Creating a program that learned chess as humans do, from teachers, books and their own playing experience, would be "well beyond the current state of the art," he added.(18)

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who left the company in 1985 to found Next Software and later become president of Pixar, returns to Apple as interim CEO. Two years later, he will still be in the "interim" position.

Sun files a lawsuit against Microsoft, accusing the software giant of undermining Sun's Java programming language.

Sun alleges that Microsoft is trying to disrupt Java development by distributing a version of Java not compatible with that used by the rest of the industry. (10)

Amazon.com, an online bookseller, goes public in May.

The day before the IPO, Barnes and Noble sues Amazon for allegedly falsely advertising itself as "the world's largest bookstore." Nevertheless, the online bookseller closes 30 percent above its opening price. The lawsuit will be settled later this year.

America Online buys its onetime rival, CompuServe.

Rather than merging it into its own online offerings, AOL leaves CompuServe as a separate service. (10)

April. Microsoft buys Web TV Networks.

The company's technology allows users to read e-mail and surf the Web on their television sets. The $425 million purchase is Microsoft's largest Internet-related acquisition to date. (10)

June. The USA Supreme Court rejects the Communications Decency Act.

Part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the act makes it a felony to distribute "indecent material" on the Internet. The court unanimously rules that the law violates the First Amendment: freedom of information. (10)

The Frauenhofer Institute (Germany) releases the MP3 format, even when the Institute patents the format there will be no royalties asked for its use, an influential stimulant to make it the PC's core, and many more appliances, music system.

A web site with a very long name goes on line:


The internet allows a maximum of 64 characters for a domain name (including the .co.uk ending) and this name has exactly 64! According to the Guinness Book of Records (2002) this is the longest site name registered so far. (16)

longest web name
picture courtesy: Keith Wood


from our supporter:

Central Alarm & Home Security Systems launches its website and begins to sell home security & security camera devices 24/7 online. Though sales trickled in, mostly in part due to skepticism of the still newly forming/growing internet, the company survived and substantially increased sales of security alarm systems to parties ranging from home owners to the Pentagon.




The first affordable digital cameras come on the market.

The number of brands and models are increasing by the daydigital camera digital camera

They are at first very simple camera's with mainly USB ports and special cables or equipped with memory cards or modules. The quality (480 x 640) and saturation is very poor. But the next year better cameras will see the light. But for simple web publishing this kind of digital cameras are all right. An attempt to construct a digital replacement for the normal 35mm picture cartridge is tampered by low resolution, high energy consumption and price (over 1000 US$).  Another development of digital photography is an inlay that can be placed inside the mirror reflex cameras. It means a second life for those reflex cameras gathering dust  But it still is an expensive gadget not for the normal photo amateur. The next few years will show dramatic improvements both in quality and price.

apple imac

August. Apple Inc. releases the iMac. A machine intended for starters and according to Apple it is optimized for the Internet.

apple imac 1988apple imac
left iMac from August 1998(11) right Apple eMac from April 2002

It's not a machine more advanced then other brands but it starts a totally new trend in computer styling and marketing. The machine has a semi transparent colored casing and looks like a modernized terminal from the 80's, everything is build into one single box.

It is the first PC, in this decade, devoid of "legacy I/O technology". The lack of a floppy drive, and total reliance on USB connectors, instead of serial/parallel/ADB(6). This is considered very risky by industry pundits. Yet it fuels USB (universal serial bus) device development, and pushes the adoption of USB by PC manufacturers. PC manufacturers start struggling to develop a truly "legacy-free" PC in the vein of Apple's original iMac.(5)

In terms of corporate survival however this new marketing strategy is also saving Apple Inc. from going under. The next few years Apple will go through a complete revival.

poluymorph memory

illustration of trapping light in a photonic crystal

Two Dutch scientists, dr. Willem Vos and dr. Judith Wijnhoven, published a report in Science on how to make so-called photonic crystals that could trap light.

Their paper was inspired by that of Eli Yablonovitch back in 1987. This new publication sets off a gold rush into this specific field of physics."(1). (read more over here)
Speculations points towards the creation of unlimited memory with this technology, consuming virtually no power.(8)


Byte Magazine, one of the first personal computer magazines and at one time (end 1980's), the most important, ceased its existence as a printed publication at the end of 1998. CMP is the new owner.

The once over 200 pages thick magazine had grown into an electronic magazine owned by CMP.com (www.byte.com). One could say that the web is the best place for a magazine like this where printed media for high tech information got outdated pournelle.jpg (3025 bytes)byte_logo.jpg (2340 bytes)fast.
Shown at left is Jerry Pournelle one of the editors from the very first beginning since 1975 and still is!


Auction site eBay, started as a place where founder Pierre Omidyar's girlfriend could swap Pez dispensers with other collectors, launched a spectacular IPO.

The company's stock price soared 163 percent on its first day of trading. (10)


The U.S. government decided to privatize the registration of Internet addresses called: URL's (Uniform Resource Locators).

Government contractor Network Solutions has enjoyed an exclusive government contract during the last six years, registering some two million names at seventy dollars apiece. The government created the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN) to help privatize the business. (10)

kevin warwick Kevin Warwick has a transponder chip implanted in his arm.
  kevin warwickHe claims to be the first person to do so. Media call him the first cyborg - silicon merged with organism. Receivers or detectors mounted on the university's campus and buildings detect his signal and react by opening doors and telling him "you have mail". The transponder is about as large as a 2 pence coin's diameter (UK).

warwick transponder\ Not to have his body accepting this transponder, removing it will become more complicated, Warwick ends the experiment after 10 days. Later Warwick will implement this "Cyborg" technology with other processors implanted in his body to direct other devices outside his body (2002) and later by transmitting sensory pulses from one's body to his (2007). (21) related story: robotics on robottics

  Pictures published with kind permission of professor Kevin Warwick , university of Reading; 30 march 2007

October. The Justice Department's long-awaited antitrust suit against Microsoft Inc. is launched.

The government alleged that Microsoft engaged in predatory and anti-competitive business practices regarding its operating system. The case dragged on until 2004. (10)

October. President Bill Clinton (USA) signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

A law that imposed new safeguards for copyrighted materials on the Internet. The legislation also barred technologies that can crack copyright protection devices. (10)


November. America Online (AOL) buying Netscape rocks the online world.

netscape aol logo

Some industry analysts say the move will make AOL powerful enough to challenge Microsoft's dominance in the technology industry. (10)


log google
trademark of Google company

Google(3), founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, enters the search engine arena and opens business

page and brin
Larry Page and Sergey Brin - picture courtesy Google

Two Stanford Ph.D. candidates, who developed a technologically advanced method for finding information on the Internet. Google is a play on the word googol meaning "an unspeakable large number". Google's use of the term reflects the company's mission to organize the immense amount of information available on the web.(2)

Googol" is the mathematical term for a 1 followed by 100 zeros:


The term was coined by Milton Sirotta, nephew of American mathematician Edward Kasner, and was popularized in the book, "Mathematics and the Imagination" by Kasner and James Newman. Google's play on the term reflects the company's mission to organize the immense amount of information available on the web.(16)(17)
Quickly Google will become the major search engine and grab 98% of the market. Rapidly overshadowing, Yahoo and AltaVista.


On February 10, ICL (Electrolux) brings out their version of the Kitchen Computer.


A Web/Java based application integrated in a refrigerator. Honeywell that tried to introduce a similar device in 1969 had to abandon the project. ICL was one of the first to try it again 30 years later. Time will prove whether this machine is too early again. (see also Honeywell 1969)

picture ICL

Palmtop computers with color displays com within reach of the average consumers.

hand held PDA

Prices will go down to less than 200 US$ for palmtops with about the same features. In the next five or six years palmtops (later called PDA's) will become more and more complex and the price will rise to about 500 USD including features like bluetooth, gps, mpeg player, movies and telephony
picture: www.pcmagazine Feb 2000

The Millennium bug is taken seriously now by almost al industrialized countries.

Those who are willing to spent the money fix most of the errors found in programs that were related to calculations with dates and codes that could relate to leap years and the so called signal codes (99 meant often end of record or file).
The main advantage however of these actions are that the firms and governmental organizations that take action on the millennium issue now have an big advantage on their competitors. They clean out all old programs, some times modernize them and throw out the stuff where functionality can be taken over by more modern programs or hardware. They can now make a fresh start.

The plummeting price of PCs leads some companies to offer free or very cheap PCs if users sign up for online services.

One company, Free-PC.com, distributes free computers to people who agree to share personal information and download Internet advertising.

Go network

Disney and Infoseek launch the Go Network (January)

Disney and Infoseek create the Go Network and launch an aggressive advertising campaign to drive traffic to the site. In July, Disney buys a majority stake in Infoseek. (10)


Prodigy Classic online service folds (January)

Citing Y2K computer problems, Prodigy announces it will shut down its Prodigy Classic online service. The company had focused on its Internet service provider business for several years, but maintained the online service, which still had about 208,000 customers.(10)

Gates increases philanthropic efforts (August).

Bill Gates merges his two charitable foundations, the William H. Gates Foundation and the Gates Learning Foundation, into one organization, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The merger created the country's richest charitable foundation, worth $17.1 billion. The foundation committed $750 million over the next five years to buy vaccines for more than 25 million children in nearly seventy poor countries. (10)


Shawn Fanning and his company Napster napster logo turns the music industry upside down.

shawn fanning
Shawn Fanning

Fannings' software allows users to swap files, mostly music, without going through a central server.

 napster network

The technology is called Peer to Peer or P2P. The Recording Industry of America (RIIA) goes crazy and sues Napster for copyright infringement. This will not become Napster and the company will go broke a few years later, only to resurface as a pay / subscription service in 2003.

microsoft xbox

Microsoft recognizing the potential of the the game world enters the arena with Xbox; running on it is Halo2.

microsoft inro xbox
 introduction of Xbox with Halo2


We now enter the 21st century. A new millennium. What will it bring?

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Last Updated on July 10, 2008 For suggestions please mail the editors 


Footnotes & References