The Top 10 IT Developments of the Past 20 Years

The Internet, the PC and Y2k have been hot topics; software bugs and security remain problems

Computerworld published a 455-page edition on Nov. 3, 1986, to commemorate its 1,000th issue and the 40th anniversary of electronic computing. What's happened since then? Here, in Computerworld 's 2,000th issue, we look at the 10 biggest IT happenings chronicled in our pages over the past 20 years.

The Internet Goes Commercial

Web creator Tim Berners-Lee

Web creator Tim Berners-Lee The Internet scene in the mid-1980s was dominated by discussions of acceptable-use policies, through which government and academic users sought to restrict Internet access to, well, government and academic users. Unacceptable uses of the Internet, such as porn and spam, hadn't been thought of yet; in those days, "unacceptable" meant commercial. Today, billions of dollars in transactions flow through the Net every month.

Fortunately, Computerworld never ran a story with the headline, "Al Gore Invents Internet." The real inventors wrote a seminal report for the National Research Council in 1988 titled "Towards a National Research Network," which spurred the development of interconnecting high-speed networks and encouraged IT vendors to build TCP/IP into their products. In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee wrote a paper describing "a distributed hyper-text system," which would become the World Wide Web.

E-commerce became an obsession when the dot-com bubble started to inflate in 1997. Even after the bubble popped in 2000, however, corporate enthusiasm for the Internet hardly slowed. Today, some of the hottest ideas in computerdom -- Web services, VoIP, service-oriented architectures and utility computing -- are grounded in the Internet.

Monopoly Musical Chairs

IBM dominated computing until the late 1980s. But its 1981 release of the IBM PC and the acceptance of PC clones, which were packed with Microsoft Corp.'s software, created a desktop computing market that changed the face of IT and put Microsoft at the center of power in the industry. Software developers flocked to DOS, and later Windows, to create thousands of applications, helping propel Microsoft's desktop operating system market share to more than 90% in the 1990s.


The IBM PC The government's concern about a Microsoft monopoly started with a 1991 investigation and culminated in 2000, when a federal district court judge found the company guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. Microsoft now faces threats from Linux, Google and Europe's antitrust regulators.

The Y2k 'Problem'

Nowadays, when you're prompted to enter a date, you'll see something like "mm/dd/yyyy." Quite an innovation, that four-digit year.

The first printed mention of a Y2k Armageddon was made in Computerworld in 1984. In 1993, we printed Peter de Jager's estimate that Y2k repairs would cost $100 billion. As hysteria mounted, cost estimates soared to close to $1 trillion.

On Jan. 2, 2000, the whole thing was seen as a bad dream and promptly forgotten. IBM said the average large company spent up to 400 man-years on the problem. Was that effort wasted? No - how else could we have justified scrapping those old Cobol systems?

The New Foreign Face of Outsourcing

1 2 3 Page 1
Page 1 of 3
Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon